PHOENIX — Immigration and Customs Enforcement may have spent nearly $17 million on empty hotel rooms in Arizona and Texas that were supposed to house a surge of migrants coming into the U.S., according to a watchdog report released this month.
The Office of Inspector General found ICE may have contracted for too many hotel rooms that the agency claims were needed to accommodate migrant families in the spring of 2021.
At the start of last year, ICE was expecting to receive a flow of new families crossing over the U.S.-Mexico border, and agents needed a place to shelter them while they were processed.
ICE entered into an $87-million contract with Endeavors, a faith-based aid group, to utilize 1,239 beds at several of the organization's facilities in Arizona and Texas.
The OIG investigators discovered many contracted beds at these facilities went unused between April and June 2021. None of the facilities used more than half of the number of beds ICE paid for under its contract, according to the OIG report.
One of the Phoenix hotels had an average usage rate of 45%. The total cost of all the unused beds was estimated to be nearly $17 million.
"ICE did not adequately justify the need for the sole-source contract to house migrant families and spent approximately $17 million for hotel space and services at six hotels that went largely unused between April and June 2021," the report states.
The OIG additionally faulted ICE and Endeavors for how they mitigated the spread of the coronavirus.
"The Endeavors medical staff did not properly document healthcare encounters as required by the medical protocols, including inconsistently documenting sick call encounters and insufficiently documenting release assessments," the report states.
Inspectors recommended ICE conduct a full assessment of the agency's migrant family housing needs before entering into a similar contract for additional bed space.
In response to the OIG report, ICE said it did not agree with some of the assertions outlined in the report and insisted the agency followed "appropriate contract processes and policies."
Furthermore, ICE said it does not intend to extend the housing contract and most of the hotels have been demobilized as of December.
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