Want to bid for a contract to care for the illegal immigrant children coming across the border? Make sure your staff members get Hepatitis vaccines and regular TB tests and can speak foreign languages — probably Spanish but maybe Mandarin, suggesting a surprising number of the children are coming from China.
The federal government guarantees the children three meals a day, and they must take account of health, religious observance or vegetarian diets. The children also have a right to second helpings, according to contract documents issued last month seeking a transportation company to ferry the children within Texas.
Even though the surge of unaccompanied children has slowed, the government is still issuing multimillion-dollar contracts to provide care, transportation, translation and other services for the 66,000 who got through the border over the past year and the thousands still entering the country each month.
The 150-page request for transportation proposals, posted online at government contractor website fbo.gov, was issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to MVM Inc., a large security contractor founded by a former Secret Service agent and based in Ashburn, Virginia.
MVM Vice President Christopher McHale confirmed in an email that his company did win the contract, which the website says is worth $192 million, but he declined to talk about any of the details.
“MVM does not make public comments as to the operation of any government contracts,” Mr. McHale said.
Overall, the contract speaks to the tenuous balance between social worker and corrections officer that those dealing with the surge of children must strike. The children are not in criminal proceedings but are still sometimes security risks. Because they are not entitled to be in the U.S., there is always the danger of flight.
“The government needs to be honest with the public about the number of individuals who have come across the border who have been found either to have criminal records, gang connections or sufficiently troubled to have to be placed in specific facilities designed for wayward, delinquent youths,” said Dan Cadman, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports a crackdown on immigration.
ICE agents and officers won’t find anything surprising in the contract. They deal with the same situation every day as they try to strike a balance between law enforcement and the humanitarian concerns placed upon them.
“This is really very unique to us. No other law enforcement organization has to go to these lengths with regard to the treatment of their population that they deal with. This is very unique to us at ICE,” said Chris Crane, president of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, which represents ICE agents and officers.
One of the challenges stressed by the contract is the language barrier. The children are mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where Spanish predominates, though some of the children also speak indigenous Mayan languages.
But the documents specifically list Mandarin as the third most prominent language, suggesting a significant number of Chinese children must be arriving as well.
“Contractor must provide sufficient access to translation,” the document orders.
ICE told potential contractors it had a list of the top five languages they should be prepared to handle, but the agency was unable to provide that list when queried by The Washington Times.
The contract documents, however, make clear how important language is when dealing with unaccompanied alien children, or UAC, which is the government’s official term for the children.
“Because children differ in comprehension levels, simple language with the appropriate tone is required,” one document says. “The contractor shall always be aware that UAC and families may be intimidated by authority figures; therefore, to avoid any confusion, the contractor should explain to the UAC and families prior to the transport what to expect during his/her transport.”
One in 200 of the children is estimated to have special needs, indicating some sort of disability.
At times, the contract reads like a celebrity’s agreement for an appearance, with strict guidelines on how the children are to be addressed and guarantees of snacks and second helpings of food. Movies and video games must be provided on trips over a certain length of time.
But peppered throughout are reminders of the potentially dangerous situation. The document contains repeated reminders that some of the children may be criminals, and goes into detail about situations in which they may be put in handcuffs or other restraints.
The contract document even details what the “transportation specialist” should do in case of a riot or a hostage situation: “Under no circumstance shall TS bargain with or take orders from a hostage taker(s), regardless of the status or rank of the hostage.”
Also included in the contract was a list through August of the cities where the Health and Human Services Department has facilities to hold the children. It’s a list HHS officials had been reluctant to release, citing privacy protections for the illegal immigrants.
Nearly 60 percent of the children ended up being turned over to facilities in Texas. Nearly 10 percent have been sent to Arizona, 8 percent to the Chicago area, 6 percent to California, and the rest scattered throughout the country.
The Times has requested details through the Freedom of Information Act of HHS contracts involving the unaccompanied minors, but has not received those records despite several months elapsing.
Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest law group, filed a complaint last week to try to make the Homeland Security Department comply with a similar open-records request for details about another solicitation, issued in January by ICE, that projected a surge of 65,000 illegal immigrant children this year.
The administration seemed surprised by the surge in May and June and scrambled to issue contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said the documents they are seeking will show that’s false.
“Any notion that the administration is surprised or is not aware of the impact of its policies and pronouncements causing a wave of illegal immigration — this proves that that’s absolutely false,” he said.
Like The Times, Judicial Watch filed its request months ago and ICE is well past the deadlines set in the law for providing the information.
“With the Obama administration, we have to file lawsuits just to get them to respond to our request,” he said. “Any veil [the administration] had of being in favor of transparency is completely dropped.”