WASHINGTON: Some migrant families arriving in the United States will be housed in hotels under a new programme managed by non-profit organisations, according to two people familiar with the plans, a move away from for-profit detention centres that have been criticised by Democrats and health experts.
Endeavors, a San Antonio-based organisation, will oversee what it calls “family reception sites” at hotels in Texas and Arizona, the two sources said. The organisation, in partnership with other non-profits, will initially provide up to 1,400 beds in seven different brand-name hotels for families deemed vulnerable when caught at the border.
The opening of the reception centres would mark a significant shift by the administration of President Joe Biden, a Democrat, away from the detention of migrant families in for-profit facilities.
In January, Biden issued an order directing the Justice Department not to renew its contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities. However, the order did not address immigration jails run by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
READ: Biden’s immigration policy takes heat as migrant levels soar
READ: US man charged over deaths of eight migrants
Roughly 1,200 migrants were being held in two family detention centres in Texas as of Wednesday, according to an ICE spokeswoman. A third centre in Pennsylvania is no longer being used to hold families.
The spokeswoman did not comment on the plan to house families in hotels.
The number of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border has climbed in recent weeks as Biden has rolled back some of the hardline policies of former President Donald Trump, a Republican.
Biden, who took office on Jan 20, has faced criticism from Republicans for reversing those policies. At the same time, some Democrats opposed Biden’s administration reopening a Trump-era emergency shelter for children.
The hotel sites, set to open in April, will offer COVID-19 testing, medical care, food services, social workers and case managers to help with travel and onward destinations, according to the two sources, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter. Staff will be trained to work with children.
It remained unclear whether migrants would be required to wear ankle bracelets or be subject to any other form of monitoring, the people said.
READ: US orders emergency agency to help with child migrant surge at Mexico border
The families will arrive at border patrol stations and then be sent to the hotel sites to continue immigration paperwork, the two sources said. They could leave the reception centres as early as six hours after arrival if paperwork is completed, they test negative for COVID-19 and transportation has been arranged.
Biden officials have said migrant families will be “expelled” to Mexico or their home countries under a Trump-era health order known as Title 42. But more than half of the 19,000 family members caught at the border in February were not expelled, with many released into the United States.
The housing of some migrants in hotels was reported by Axios earlier on Saturday.
Endeavors will also operate a new 2,000-bed shelter for unaccompanied children in Texas, the sources said.
The Biden administration has struggled to house a rising number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the US-Mexico border. More than 500 children were stuck in crowded border stations for more than 10 days as of Thursday.
The new family and child facilities are expected to ramp up bed capacity gradually, the people familiar with the effort said.