The Office of Refugee Resettlement Quadrupled What It Doled to Contractors As It Lost Migrant Kids

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July 7, 2023

The Office of Refugee Resettlement hasn’t exactly been on a winning streak during the Biden administration. And while the agency lost track of almost 100,000 migrant children, it has also quadrupled the amount of money awarded to contractors responsible for placing migrant children with responsible adults.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement doled out upwards of $6 billion in 2021 and 2022 to contractors and nonprofit groups—up from $1.7 billion in 2020—according to records obtained by the Functional Government Institute and provided to the Washington Free Beacon. The taxpayer funds were supposed to be used to help place 264,000 unaccompanied children with adult relatives or sponsors with whom they could await court dates, though the agency lost track of almost 100,000 of those kids.

The massive increase in grants is attributed primarily to more than $5 billion in no-bid contracts doled out to three companies, a practice Democrats such as Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D.) and Vice President Kamala Harris decried during the Trump administration. Among the companies that benefited from the Biden administration’s largesse: the San Antonio-based nonprofit Family Endeavors, which inked a $579 million no-bid contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement in March 2021.

That just so happens to be two months after the charity hired Biden transition adviser Andrew Lorenzen-Strait. Family Endeavors received the funds to provide housing for migrant children at a facility in Pecos, Texas, though the group lacked any prior experience caring for immigrants, the Washington Examiner reported. The Office of Refugee Resettlement doled out an additional $1.34 billion to Family Endeavors in 2022.

Family Endeavors also received an $87 million contract from Immigration and Customs Enforcement in March 2021 to provide temporary shelter for immigrant families. The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General later found that the charity had wasted $17 million of those funds on unused hotel rooms.

The awards from the Office of Refugee Resettlement were doled out amid an unprecedented spike in border crossings that experts say was driven by Biden’s lax immigration policies. The Office of Refugee Resettlement told Senate Republicans that the office was not responsible for protecting unaccompanied minors from "abuse and trafficking" after placing them with sponsors. In April, Office of Refugee Resettlement director Robin Dunn Marcos told Congress that at-risk migrant children could call the office’s 800 number for help if they ran into problems.

According to former Office of Refugee Resettlement director Jonathan Hayes, the increased grants were an attempt to throw taxpayer dollars at systemic problems. "They should have known this was going to happen," said Hayes, who served under the Trump administration. "The increased funding that taxpayers have had to pony up is both outrageous and completely incapable of meeting the demands that the crisis has brought to many American cities across the country."

The Office of Refugee Resettlement also doled out contracts to some for-profit companies. The Alabama-based Rapid Deployment received over $3 billion in sole-source contracts from the Office of Refugee Resettlement in 2021 and 2022 to operate the Fort Bliss emergency shelter in Donna, Texas. The facility was staffed by inexperienced and untrained contractors "who lacked knowledge about child-welfare best practices," leading to many migrant children experiencing "distress, anxiety, and in some cases, panic attacks," the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General reported in September 2022.

In one instance, a migrant child housed at the Fort Bliss facility cut herself in front of other children after learning her mother had not yet been contacted by a government case manager. The girl had to be transported to a psychiatric facility, according to government investigators.

Another for-profit company, the New York-based Deployed Resources, received $384 million in sole-source contracts in 2021 and 2022 to house unaccompanied migrant children at a vacant Hebrew school in North Carolina.

"Putting aside the eye-popping increases in funds to house and transport migrant children—and the potential for rampant waste, fraud, and abuse—these records provide early receipts for the cartel-friendly immigration policy that actually endangers children," said Functional Government Initiative communications director Peter McGinnis. "The federal government’s failure to exercise existing authority has created nothing short of a humanitarian crisis."

The Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to a request for comment.