United States to house some migrant families in hotels moving away from detention centers

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Migrant asylum seekers in Penitas, Texas

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By Ted Hesson and Kristina Cooke

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some migrant families arriving in the U.S. are being accommodated in hotels under a new program managed by nonprofits, according to two people familiar with the plans, a move away from for-profit detention facilities that have been criticized by Democrats and health experts.

Endeavor, a San Antonio-based organization, will oversee so-called “family reception locations” at hotels in Texas and Arizona, the two sources said. In collaboration with other non-profit organizations, the organization will initially provide beds in seven different branded hotels for families who are considered to be at risk at the border.

Tae Johnson, acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Services (ICE (NYSE :)), said the agency signed a $ 86.9 million short-term contract with Endeavor to provide temporary housing and processing services to migrant families. The contract provides 1,239 beds and other necessary services, he said in a statement.

The opening of the reception centers would represent a significant shift in the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden from incarcerating migrant families in for-profit institutions.

In January, Biden issued an order to the Justice Department not to renew his contracts with privately operated penal institutions. However, the order did not apply to ICE-operated immigration prisons.

According to an ICE spokeswoman, there were around 1,200 migrants in two family detention centers in Texas on Wednesday. A third center in Pennsylvania is no longer used to house families.

The number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has risen in recent weeks as Biden rolled back some of the tough guidelines from former Republican President Donald Trump.

Biden, who took office on January 20, has been criticized by Republicans for reversing this policy. At the same time, some Democrats opposed Biden’s administration and opened emergency shelter for Trump-era children.

The hotel locations, slated to open in April, offer COVID-19 testing, medical care, catering services, social workers and case managers to help with travel and onward destinations, according to the two sources that asked anonymity to address the matter discuss. The staff is trained to work with children.

It is still unclear whether migrants wear anklets or have to be subject to some other form of surveillance.

The families will arrive at the border patrol stations and then sent to the hotel locations to continue immigration papers, the two sources said. They could leave the reception centers as early as six hours after arriving when the paperwork is done, they test negative for COVID-19, and transportation has been arranged.

Biden officials said migrant families are being “expelled” to Mexico or their home countries under a Trump-era health ordinance known as Title 42. However, more than half of the 19,000 family members captured at the border in February have not been deported, many of them released to the United States.

“Our border is not open,” ICE’s Johnson said in the statement. “The majority of people will continue to be expelled under the Centers for Disease Control’s health authority.”

The accommodation of some migrants in hotels was reported by Axios on Saturday.

Endeavors will also operate a new 2,000-bed animal shelter in Texas for unaccompanied children, the sources said.

The Biden government has made efforts to accommodate increasing numbers of unaccompanied minors on the US-Mexico border. There were more than 5,000 unaccompanied children in overcrowded border installations on Saturday, according to government data from Reuters.

The new facilities for families and children are expected to gradually increase bed capacity, according to those familiar with the effort.

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