Some migrant families arriving in the US will be housed in hotels under a new program managed by nonprofit organizations, according to two people familiar with the plans, a move away from for-profit detention centers criticized by Democrats and health experts.
Endeavors, a San Antonio-based organization, will oversee what it calls “family reception sites” at hotels in Texas and Arizona, the sources said. The organization, in partnership with other nonprofits, will initially provide up to 1,400 beds in seven different brand-name hotels for families deemed vulnerable.
The opening of the reception centers would mark a significant shift by the administration of Joe Biden. 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).
Roughly 1,200 migrants were being held in two family detention centers in Texas as of Wednesday, according to an Ice spokeswoman. A third center 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 as Biden has rolled back some of the hardline policies of former president Donald Trump. Biden, who took office on 20 January, has faced criticism from Republicans. Some Democrats opposed re-opening 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.
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 centers as soon 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 US.
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.