Federal immigration officials in Arizona plan to place in a hotel migrant families who have illegally come across the U.S.-Mexico border as part of an effort to avoid openly releasing people onto the street, according to a border mayor.
Family Endeavors, a nonprofit organization, will take over a local hotel in Yuma, Arizona, where it will hold families who have been transferred from the custody of Border Patrol to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Families are only expected to stay in the hotels for three days before being transported to shelters across Arizona and California when they are released into the United States, according to the top city official.
Holding families in hotels is out of the ordinary and started earlier this year under the Biden administration. ICE has family residential centers nationwide but has let the facilities sit empty, instead opting to dole out tens of millions of dollars since March to place families in hotels.
Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls criticized the plan in a phone call Tuesday, saying he believes the plan to rely on a hotel “actually encourages” more people to make the journey to the U.S. and cross the border because migrants “know how they’re going to be released to an American hotel where they get room service and other — whatever’s going on.”
“It’s a little bit counterintuitive,” said Nicholls, who is a Republican.
Since March, the small city of Yuma has seen a higher number of noncitizens attempting to cross from Mexico in the southwestern Arizona region. In an average year, 25 to 50 people are encountered by Border Patrol agents daily. This spring, Yuma agents were taking in 400 people per day, Nicholls said.
Although the Biden administration has claimed to be turning away all families and adults amid the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of families are being permitted into the U.S. In an effort to hold the families in the limited number of Border Patrol stations around Yuma, the Border Patrol set up a tent as an overflow facility to hold new arrivals.
Families are to be transferred to ICE, and they legally can be detained for up to 20 days. However, the Biden administration has prioritized moving families and children to more suitable facilities such as hotels, and it is increasingly relying on them instead of existing family residential centers nationwide.
This latest hotel that ICE is moving families into in Arizona is being funded by an $87 million contract that ICE gave to Family Endeavors in March. The contract was awarded without a competitive bidding process and was supposed to house 1,200 people across seven hotels in preselected cities in Arizona and Texas. Yuma was not on the list, and ICE has not shared why Family Endeavors is veering from its plan.
The organization’s ties to the Biden transition team are being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.
In addition, the Biden administration recently submitted a request for information for space to house 2,000 people along the southern border, according to government documents reviewed by the Washington Examiner. Nicholls said the decision to put up families in hotels is not a long-term solution and that the current response to the high flow of people cannot be sustained.
“It’s a pipeline issue for ICE. They don’t have the capacity to handle this volume indefinitely, so this is one of the ways that they’re trying to manage that,” said Nicholls.