By Corinne Murdock |
Arizona’s wealthiest town has gained national attention over the last week, after it was discovered that a former hotel was covertly transformed into a migrant safe house almost overnight. A former Homewood Suites in Scottsdale has been converted to a makeshift migrant shelter closed to the public since May 24.
ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have contracted “Family Endeavors” through September 30 to house over 1,200 migrants at a time in Arizona and Texas. They paid the company $86.9 million in a no-bid contract lasting 6 and a half months for a multi-state contract. Each bed totals over $352 daily. The ICE contract repeated that the “Government would be seriously injured” had they not awarded this no-bid contract to Family Endeavors to handle the migrant influx – an “unusual and compelling urgency,” as they described it. The contract also noted that the expected migrant influx would be the highest seen in over 20 years.
The contract didn’t speculate as to why this sudden, emergency-level influx was occurring.
One of the organization’s officials was reportedly on the Biden transition team: former ICE official Andrew Lorenzen-Strait. Ahead of the influx characterized as an “unusual and compelling urgency,” Family Endeavors announced on Inauguration Day that Lorenzen-Strait would become their government liaison as senior director for migrant services and federal affairs.
Soon after the $86.9 million contract, Family Endeavors received the $530 million no-bid contract for “emergency intake” and long-term care of migrant children.
Family Endeavors’ website describes the organization as assisting “vulnerable people in crisis” like veterans, disaster victims, the homeless, and migrants.
Family Endeavors wouldn’t answer questions from AZ Free News concerning whether they felt communities were owed an advance warning prior to sheltering migrants there. The organization directed AZ Free News to speak with ICE for further inquiries.
“We can confirm that DHS [Department of Homeland Security] has contracted with Endeavors to provide critical services to migrant families, which is a continuation of services we have delivered to the migrant population since 2012,” wrote the Family Endeavors spokespersons.
Officers at the shelter site shared that they were contracted with Law Enforcement Specialists (LES), a law enforcement contract service company. They also informed reporters that ICE and various state agencies were monitoring the hotel.
ICE spokespersons also didn’t answer questions from AZ Free News concerning why surrounding communities weren’t given advance notice of the shelter, why local officials lack authority to decline sheltering migrants, or if there were any other similar shelters currently or soon to be operating out of Scottsdale or the surrounding areas. Instead, they reiterated the same information given to other reporters concerning the holding times, COVID-19 testing protocols, and the quality and content of care of migrants.
According to court documents concerning a legal battle between the property lender and the borrower, the plaintiffs in the case, Wilmington Trust, note that the defendant and borrower, Woodbridge Hospitality, misleadingly referred to the ICE/DHS contract as “private lodging” rather than the reality of its current usage – an immigrant detention center. Wilmington Trust claimed that they issued the loan to Woodbridge Hospitality on the condition that the facility would be secured by rents, income, and underlying value of a Homewood Suites by a Hilton branded first-class hotel.
On Tuesday, the city of Scottsdale issued a press release explaining that they’d been notified last Friday about ICE’s plan to establish a migrant shelter at the Homewood Suites the next day. ICE officials reportedly told city officials that the hotel would serve as house intact families seeking political asylum. ICE assured the city that a “vast majority” of those migrants would travel outside of Arizona after processing, which would be short-term: 72 hours or less, on average. ICE also assured the city that these migrants would be tested for COVID-19 and receive health assessments.
“Scottsdale has no current authority to prevent the hotel from being rented for these immigrant families,” read the press release. “Immigration is a federal matter, over which the city of Scottsdale has no responsibility or oversight.”
The city officials told concerned citizens to contact their federal government representatives, and listed Representative David Schweikert (R-AZ-06), Senators Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and President Joe Biden.
Links to federal leaders weren’t enough for Scottsdale’s citizenry. On Wednesday, over 600 protesters showed up at the pop-up Paradise Valley migrant shelter. Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega reprimanded the protestors and concerned citizens in an email.
“Feds say they are recognized, asylum seekers, not illegal border crossers, [they are] COVID tested and to be accountable to ICE. Feds control the closed-use property. They are exhausted now,” wrote Ortega. “‘Remember you were once an alien.’ Anyone living, working, or visiting Scottsdale will be treated with respect and dignity[.]”
Schweikert sent a letter to ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson, questioning how ICE planned on providing proper social services, security, boundaries, and first responder resources for the facility. Schweikert asserted that the area didn’t support a facility, logistically.
“I am concerned that this location lacks even the most basic resources needed for a migrant detention facility. I am also concerned about the effect this facility will have on the surrounding community,” wrote Schweikert. “Finally, and perhaps most troublingly, I am concerned that your agency made the decision to use this facility as a migrant detention center without properly consulting with the surrounding community.”
Neither Kelly or Sinema published any statements or remarks on the matter. However, both senators heavily criticized Biden’s handling of the border crisis.
The President hasn’t issued any statements, either; nor has White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on his behalf.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich submitted a letter as well.
“The President is using Arizona as an experiment with his reckless border policies,” wrote Brnovich. “All of us will pay the price, not only with our tax dollars, but also with our national security, and the safety of our families.”
At least one state-level representative has taken action, too. State Representative Shawnna Bolick (R-Phoenix) also submitted a letter to Johnson questioning why ICE would locate a migrant detention center near a public school and suburban neighborhood.
Today I sent a letter to the acting director at @ICEgov to get answers to questions I have about a migrant detention facility located in the suburbs near a public school and neighborhood. I cc’d other local officials on the letter, hoping to get all of our questions answered. pic.twitter.com/FfEBcicWSo
— Shawnna LM Bolick (@Bolick4Arizona) June 2, 2021
Concern for the quality of these migrant facilities – especially for children at the ages most vulnerable for trafficking – has been a long-time issue for Arizona legislators. Back in 2016, whistleblowers revealed that unaccompanied migrant children were vulnerable to coyotes. State legislators attempted to introduce legislation requiring that refugee facilities be state-licensed and inspected monthly; it died in chamber.
Corinne Murdock is a contributing reporter for AZ Free News. In her free time, she works on her books and podcasts. Follow her on Twitter, @CorinneMurdock or email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.