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Chicago: Spending $18,000/migrant to put them in a tent?

Wow. A lot to unpack here.

  • First off, it's estimated that between 13,500 & 15,000 migrants have landed in Chicago. So to provide tents for all these folks at this rate will cost about $260 million. For comparison, the entire budget deficit of the City last year was approx $80 million. Then there's the question of where are all these folks going to go?

  • Of course, god forbid we did nothing. As the weather got cold they'd move someplace South. Can't have that! Oh, I almost forgot, we're paying the same folks who brought these guys to Chicago to house them.

  • Again, god forbid we did what the prior administration did. Secure the border, and immediately send illegals caught crossing back to Mexico.

  • Fortunately all the other folks in need of services who are here illegally can forget about it. They money has been earmarked elsewhere.

  • Enjoy!

Mayor Brandon Johnson quietly signs $29 million deal with private security firm for asylum-seeker ‘base camps’ despite company’s work relocating migrants from Florida

By Alice Yin and Dan Petrella

Chicago Tribune

Last Updated: Sep 20, 2023 m

Migrants look out the window as they ride a CTA bus leaving the High Ridge YMCA shelter to be transf

Migrants look out the window as they ride a CTA bus leaving the High Ridge YMCA shelter to be transferred to Daley College on June 13, 2023. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune)

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration is moving forward with plans to put up migrant base camps across the city by signing a nearly $30 million contract with a private security firm at the center of controversies related to its handling of asylum-seekers elsewhere, including on behalf of GOP Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

GardaWorld Federal Services, and its subsidiary Aegis Defense Services, quietly sealed the one-year deal with the city on Sept. 12. The city contract calls for GardaWorld to provide “emergency logistics management and operation services that will set up shelter … and other necessary services (also called ‘a base camp’ or ‘solution’)” for the new arrivals.”

The company signed a similar $125 million contract with the state of Illinois late last year, though so far very little has been paid out.

The $29.4 million GardaWorld agreement with the city came less than a week after Johnson announced he intended before winter to move about 1,600 migrants, many of whom are temporarily living inside Chicago police stations or at O’Hare or Midway airports, to a network of newly erected tent cities peppered throughout the city.

Earlier this month, Johnson’s team noted the city’s migrant expenditures could reach $302 million by the end of the year when factoring in costs of the new tent encampment sites.

The mayor has yet to reveal details about the exact timeline or locations of the camps, but the contract reveals some specifics about the tents it would assemble. The soft-material “yurt” structures would each fit 12 cots and be outfitted with fire extinguishers and portable restrooms while makeshift kitchens would be set up nearby. Questions remain, however, on heating capabilities during the unforgiving Chicago winter.

The security company, which says on its website it has “responded to all major U.S. natural disasters, declared emergencies, and military conflicts since 2002,” has also drawn criticism for several immigration-related matters.

The controversies encompass projects and proposals in Denver, Texas and Canada related to migrants, as well as the firm’s recent contract agreeing to relocate migrants from Florida under DeSantis’ direction.

Late Wednesday, after word of the contract was reported by the Tribune and other news outlets, Johnson’s administration released a statement saying the contract “enables the City to stand up the base camps expeditiously, and more quickly move new arrivals from Chicago Police Department district stations as the weather begins to change.”

The administration did not address any of the controversies and said GardaWorld was selected “based on expediency” because the company had a preexisting master contract with the state that the city was able to piggyback on.

But two months ago, records obtained by the Tribune show members of Johnson’s administration raised questions about the firm.

Sharing a Denver Post article about the company’s scuttled efforts to secure a $40 million contract to provide migrant services to the city of Denver, the city’s deputy mayor for immigration, Beatriz Ponce de León, wrote in a July 24 email with state officials, “Sharing this article about Denver’s rejection of GaurdaWorld (sic). We’d like to discuss possible implications here.”

Representatives with GardaWorld declined to comment Wednesday.

Controversies in Denver, border states

In the past decade, GardaWorld has received contracts across North American to provide migrant-related services that include detention. That drew alarm earlier this year from immigration advocates in Denver who successfully helped sink the proposed $40 million contract.

The Denver mayor’s office withdrew the plan in July after heavy backlash from advocates and nonprofit organizations contended GardaWorld does not have experience running humane migrant shelters and that the firm comes from a background of “military-style operations,” the Denver Post reported.

Led by the Colorado branch of the progressive, Philadelphia-based American Friends Service Committee, the critics said the company has worked with the federal government at Fort Bliss, a facility along the southern border in El Paso, Texas, that houses unaccompanied children who crossed the border. The company also has contracted with the Canadian government to “provide detention and transportation services” in the Vancouver area, according to a case study on its website.

In addition, the firm was one of three finalists in Florida for DeSantis’ plans to relaunch a program relocating migrants to Democratic-led cities, according to the state’s online records. GardaWorld signed the contract with Florida’s executive office of the governor — who is also a 2024 Republican presidential candidate — in June, with amendments stretching to Aug. 17.

The signed Florida agreement includes a cover letter from GardaWorld’s vice president of contracts, David Watson, who vowed, “In the wake of increasing numbers of migrants arriving in Florida, GWFS stands ready to assist the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) by providing mature and proven project management and transportation services to ensure dignified relocation services,” according to a heavily redacted copy uploaded on a Florida state database. That contract was amended three times since, according to the website.

Watson also signed the Illinois and Chicago contracts.

Jennifer Piper, the Colorado program director at AFSC, said GardaWorld should not be trusted to do work in Chicago either.

“They’re a company that is clearly not ethical … and they don’t have a good track record of caring for vulnerable people,” Piper said. “So if I were a Chicago resident, I would be very concerned about the treatment and the conditions for people inside shelters run by GardaWorld.”

The company was founded in Canada under the name Trans-Quebec Security Inc. in 1995, according to its website, before it expanded internationally amid a spate of acquisitions.

Its website boasts of being “a partner of choice to the U.S. Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, (and) the Intelligence Community” for services including security, medical and response logistics.

Migrants take shelter inside the Chicago Police Department's 8th District station on Sept. 12, 2023.

Migrants take shelter inside the Chicago Police Department's 8th District station on Sept. 12, 2023. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

Most of Chicago’s 14,000 migrants who have arrived to seek asylum since August 2022 have come from Texas, some under the direction of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. But DeSantis has been eager to make flashy moves with the migrants who have crossed the U.S. southern border as well, sending planes to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and California, to swift condemnation from Democratic leaders.

Chicago and Illinois officials have decried the Republican governors for what they say are efforts to manipulate a humanitarian crisis for a political stunt.

While GardaWorld had reportedly presented its migrant work to Denver officials as humanitarian-focused, The Tampa Bay Times noted DeSantis’ administration specifically sought vendors that would agree with the following “truths”:

“The migrant and refugee issues are not going away,” and that “a small percentage of these migrants are criminals and malicious actors from foreign entities. They should be identified, apprehended and delivered to law enforcement,” Florida’s Division of Emergency Management wrote.

Apprehension over GardaWorld

The city contract is using the $125 million state deal secured months ago with GardaWorld, though state officials said they had no involvement with the city deal.

The state contract called for the company to “house between 250-700 people within a warehouse or other large building,” and emails and other records show the company was preparing plans for converting a former CVS store into an interim housing facility. But records from the state comptroller’s office show the state has paid the company just $2,650, which a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services said was for an initial feasibility assessment on the CVS facility in the Little Village neighborhood.

Still, correspondence between Johnson’s and Pritzker’s administrations, including from Ponce de León, show both sides were aware of the negative press about GardaWorld.

DHS spokeswoman Rachel Otwell said “the concerns were related to cultural competency, which the state addressed by collaborating with GardaWorld on its operating policies and procedures to ensure a human services lens,” as well as having weekly meetings with company officials as well as local and state officials and “planning to have a culturally competent community provider onsite to assist with operations.”

IEMA said in a statement that the GardaWorld contract was competitively bid.

The state signed a separate $20 million contract with GardaWorld in February to “provide security services to Illinois Department of Human Services lodging sites in and around Chicagoland,” though the contract amount was eventually reduced to $100,000, according to records. At the end of last year, the department was housing more than 2,000 migrants across a dozen Chicago-area hotels, but state records show they had all moved out by early May.

The department signed another contract for up to $9.5 million with GardaWorld in August for “services related to an emergency shelter for asylum-seekers including set-up/tear-down, equipment/internet installation, personnel, etc.”

The state did not provide additional details about the August contract, and records don’t show any payments made under the earlier contract for security services.

Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th, chairman of the Chicago City Council’s immigration committee, said Wednesday, “I don’t understand why we would give money to the same folks” who are doing DeSantis’ bidding. He also said he had reservations about Johnson’s tent proposal and that the city should instead be spending money acquiring vacant properties for shelters.

“The fact that they’re kind of looking at it from this kind of detention lens isn’t something I believe we should be moving forward with,” Vasquez said when presented with the GardaWorld contract. “Again, I understand the need to figure out a solution in the short term. Seeing the information, unless I get more, this does not appear to be it.”

Worries about heating during Chicago winter

Questions also remain on how GardaWorld’s base camp operations will fare for the asylum-seekers, many of whom are Venezuelan immigrants who trekked across Central and South America with few resources and are still awaiting job permits.

The city contract details the firm would set up trailers and tents that could house between 250 to 1,400 migrants per base camp, with air conditioning and electrical systems. Although the contract states the tents will be able to cool down to 72 degrees if it is 95 degrees outside, it only lists capacity to heat the structures up to 70 degrees from 40 degrees — a floor that hardly matches the subzero temperatures that mark Chicago’s winters.

Tents would be made with “ClearSpan” fabric and provide “natural ventilation, armshield cover and multiple foundation options,” according to the contract.

The camps would be made up of smaller tents, which the contract call “yurts,” that span about 665 square feet and would hold a dozen sleeping cots, each with storage space and a minimum 40 square feet of space between occupants. Every yurt would be equipped with fire extinguishers, lighting and smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

The contract lays out separate tents for operations staff and for medically “isolated patients” who would be placed elsewhere in the base camp, in addition to other facilities for kitchens and bathrooms. The latter would be broken into trailers for toilets and urinals, an eight-head shower station, laundry and sinks.

For the “porta-trailer restroom,” the contract calls for providing at least one toilet for every 20 people, and one toilet and one urinal per 25 males. The firm would establish hand-washing stations to serve a ratio of one sink per 20 people.

Each occupant would get 64 ounces of bottled drinking water per day, per American Red Cross standards, according to the contract, as well as three meals a day, seven days a week. A sample dinner would include an entrée, bread, salad, vegetable, dessert and a beverage of coffee, juice or water.

All “security for the population” provided by GardaWorld in the basecamps would be unarmed, according to the contract, and the company is prepared to provide fencing options around the camps ranging from “small barrier/enclosure fencing to complete camp privacy fencing.”

For “soft-sided lodging” such as the tent encampments with utilities readily available, monthly costs will run $2.3 million for 200 to 400 people, and $7.2 million for between 1,201 to 1,400 people. Setup and teardown costs will range from $510,000 to $596,000.

If utilities such as water, electricity and waste are not readily available at tent sites, costs rise as well. Monthly expenditures for a base camp sheltering between 200 to 400 people will run at $2.4 million, while housing between migrants 1,201 and 1,400 will run $7.8 million. Setup and teardown costs will range from $552,000 to $638,000.

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