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More than 120 organizations sent a letter today to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director Tae Johnson expressing concerns over ICE custody programs involving families arriving at the southern U.S. border. In March, ICE signed a short-term no-bid contract with a Texas-based organization called Family Endeavors for 1,239 hotel beds and other related services. The administration has also expanded contracts with the controversial private security contractor MVM Inc., for the transport of migrant families. The letter lifts up calls from border respite centers and advocates for a shift away from ICE’s reliance on hotels and for investment in NGO-run post-release border reception and welcome centers.

Existing border reception centers work tirelessly to provide arriving families voluntary respite and social support services, COVID-19 testing as needed, orientation to the asylum system, and assistance with securing safe transportation to their final destinations. While Endeavors provides some of these services, unlike community-based shelters, the organization's hotel program appears to operate as a custodial model for ICE, where people do not have the freedom to leave their rooms or facilities, and do not have full access to legal services. Rather than extend ICE custody, which presents excessive costs and risks, the government should release families to shelters where they will safely receive the services they need.

The letter calls for the administration to provide information clarifying the nature of ICE’s contracts with MVM, Endeavors, and other programs involving ICE’s use of hotels which are in place or under negotiation. Among the many concerns with President Biden’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2022, was that it includes funding to hold 2,500 family members in “short-term” ICE processing centers. Advocates have expressed frustration over the budget request, calling for the administration to reject deterrence policies, and welcome asylum seekers with dignity. Such a welcoming approach involves immediately ending Title 42 border expulsions, as well as turning to the trusted community-based border shelter networks that have the capacity to provide vital care for asylum seekers and services with a trauma-informed approach.

Read the full letter here.