The Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency renewed its search this week for "Transportation Services for Unaccompanied Children" crossing the border into the United States. An earlier notice posted in January of this year seeking "escort services" for an estimated 65,000 unaccompanied children raised questions about the Obama administration's prior recognition of the effect that news of its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) plan would have on primarily Central American parents who mistakenly believed their children would benefit from the program.
The current notice says that ICE will award an "indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract" to provide "unarmed escort staff, including management, supervision, manpower, training, certifications, licenses, drug testing, equipment, and supplies necessary to provide on-demand escort services for non-criminal/non-delinquent UAC ranging from infants to 17 years of age, seven (7) days a week, 365 days a year. Transport will be required for UAC or family groups, to include both male and female juveniles."
The documents note that the "volume of UAC apprehensions continues to create numerous operational challenges for DHS" as "apprehensions doubled in fiscal year (FY) 2012, reaching 12,000." A chart included in the documents illustrates the tremendous increase in the use of contractors to handle the increased traffic:
Fiscal year 2013 saw a ten-fold increase in the number of contractor-transported unaccompanied children, and after four months of fiscal year 2014, the number was already more than half of the previous year's total.
Another chart shows the top cities of origin and destination for the contractor-led trip. More than half originated in Harlingen, TX, very close to the border with Mexico. A little more than a quarter of the trips delivered the children to El Paso, TX.
ICE notes that under current laws and regulations, the agency:
does not have authority nor is responsible to detain unaccompanied children; rather ICE is responsible for transporting these juveniles to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelters located throughout the continental United States...
DHS places those UAC who cannot be returned immediately, as well as all UAC from countries other than Mexico or Canada, in removal proceedings under § 240 of the INA. DHS then transfers the UAC to the care and custody of ORR. ORR houses UAC in children’s shelters, staff-secure facilities, and secure facilities. ORR also maintains bed space in residential treatment facilities for children with special needs. ORR places young UAC, as well as UAC who are accompanied by their own children, in foster care, where they may apply for various immigration benefits through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), including asylum and other programs designed to assist victims of crime, abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and human trafficking.
This current search for contractors by ICE comes even as President Obama is under increasing pressure to make a decision on the status of millions of illegal immigrants, possibly by expanding the DACA program.