In 2021, immigration officials reportedly squandered $17 million on empty hotels for migrants after employing a politically linked contractor who failed to follow COVID-19 standards, according to a government watchdog. A recent report released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement signed an $87 million contract with the nonprofit organization Endeavors to offer services for the influx of migrants at the southern border.
The watchdog group determined that ICE should have sought other bids for the job instead of accepting a “sole source” agreement with Endeavors that compelled the agency to pay for a block of more than 1,200 hotel rooms regardless of how many were used. The government was legally required to pay Endeavors $17 million for hotel rooms that were primarily unoccupied between April and June 2021 as a result of the alleged miscalculation. The report stated, “ICE’s sole source contract with Endeavors resulted in millions of dollars being spent on unused hotel space.” It also claimed that Endeavors put “migrant families and the outside population at risk of contracting COVID-19” for failing to follow testing protocol before transporting the migrants. However, Endeavors claimed it “followed appropriate protocols and met the standard of care for migrant families in this contract.”
According to the Office of Inspector General, the Texas-based NGO also failed to provide refreshments and storage space for migrant families, as required by ICE requirements. Additionally, the investigation alleged there was poor surveillance and document security at Endeavors’ migrant facilities.
Endeavors inked another, more lucrative no-bid contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about the same time as the alleged malfeasance occurred. The agreement raised concern since it was reached after the group recruited Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, a member of the Biden administration transition team, as its senior director for migrant services and federal affairs.
Much of the report has been disputed by ICE, which said it was justified in negotiating the no-bid contract because of the “unusual and compelling urgency” of the migrant border crisis. In a letter to DHS, ICE stated they are “committed to ensuring that non-citizens in its custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments, and under appropriate conditions of confinement.”