Immigration & Labor

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The government is planning on building detention and relocation centers with 40,000 beds and barracks for an undetermined “immigration emergency” — courtesy Kellogg, Brown and Root.

Some time between now and 2010, the U.S. government expects some uninvited guests — a massive influx of undocumented immigrants. In preparation for their arrival, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) backed the National Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which mandates 40,000 new beds and barracks for foreign-born refugees at four undisclosed locations over the next five years.

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On Jan. 3, 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) expanded an existing contract held by Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) and renewed it to accommodate up to 20,000 refugees from environmental and political disasters. A future expansion in 2008 calls for another 20,000 beds.

Detention of immigrants and other undesirables without charge is nothing new. After the Civil War, many states supplied troops and police to assist private armed guards to arrest and detain striking workers. In 1918, Attorney General Mitchell Palmer and a youthful 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover launched raids to round up and deport alleged subversives. In the fall of 1934, striking textile workers were interned in camps at Fort MacPherson outside Atlanta, Ga. Congress approved the Internal Security Act of 1950, including FBI Director Hoover's “Security Portfolio,” a plan to arrest and detain up to 20,000 dissidents. 1984 Director of Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) under Ronald Reagan reconstituted a readiness exercise, Operation Night Train, code-named REX 84, a potential roundup of up tens of thousands of Central Americans residing in the United States for internment in ten military detention centers.

But the difference here is that the emergency detention and removal plans for 2006-2010 are built on a new contingency support contract. Originally awarded in 1999 by the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service, the contract sought logistical support for imagined immigration events. Contingency support contracts are good business for KBR, which provides insurance for calamities that don't happen.

When George Bush and Dick Cheney moved to Washington, many Texas-based companies teed up for contract extensions and new business opportunities. Among them, KBR was viewed by many in the defense contracting industry as a capable, fast and far-reaching company. KBR has been awarded the last three expanded improved detention center contracts administered by the Army Corps. The awards often come well in advance of the expiration date.

Take the latest detention center contract between DHS/ICE and KBR: The solicitation went to 26 vendors of detention and logistical support services, 11 of them based in Texas. As with most large service contracts entailing indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity and rapid response time, Halliburton's KBR submitted the only bid for the work. While this does not constitute another “cost-plus no-bid contract,” which have been cited as particularly vulnerable to abuse and fraud, the contract award to a single bidder doesn't lend itself to much competitive pricing. Contracting officer Linda Eadie of the U.S. Army Corps' Fort Worth, Texas, district, who administrated the DHS/ICE deal with KBR disagreed: “This is a cost-plus contract, but it is not a no-bid. The procurement was competitively negotiated.”

During the contract negotiations, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. USACE learned the hard way about the limitations of the 2001-2005 contract. The existing contract responded to an “immigration emergency,” not a “migration emergency.” Hurricane Katrina involved “evacuees” from within the United States, and not “refugees” or immigrants from abroad. Under the contract, no task orders could be issued, with the exception of a requirement to perform readiness exercises on a moment's notice. Under that provision, DHS ordered KBR to provide temporary shelter for DHS and ICE officials in New Orleans for $7 million.

In the “recompete” solicitation for the detention and relocation centers, USACE modified the terms. Under the new contract, the detention and relocation centers will be able to hold both immigrant refugees from U.S.-born natural disasters and foreign-born natural disasters. This new program expands the DHS Contingency Support Project and ICE's Detention and Removal Program. In the event of another Katrina-like flood, ICE, with KBR's logistical support, will perform a large-scale migrant catch and release program.

DHS and ICE determine what constitutes an immigration emergency. But no one from ICE or DHS has responded to queries about specific scenarios that would order KBR to act on the contract, other than to say, Its for a Mariel Boatlift-type event. A KBR press release from January 24th quotes Bruce Stanski, executive vice president, KBR Government and Infrastructure, who looks forward to supporting the development of new programs.

So speculations have grown. Could an immigration emergency could one be declared tomorrow in Arizona, Texas, or California at the urging of conservative political leaders from those regions? Is this program the foundation of internment camps on U.S. soil again? Evacuee resettlement facilities can be converted into detention centers at-the-quick. An Army Corps procurement analyst told me, “Mobile watchtowers are easily wheeled onto the corners of barbed-wired tent camps.”

The stated intentions of the contract and acquisition plan do not include those features. Linda Eadie explained that KBR's work could prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the event of natural disasters such as floods, plagues, tidal waves, hurricanes, earthquakes or a political crisis abroad, like “the fall of a current or future government.” USACE maintains it's money well spent on a de facto insurance plan against a humanitarian disaster, offering public shelter for evacuees from a variety of storms, natural disasters, human-induced events.

Immigration lawyers and migrant advocates warn that the government plans to detain and remove more people, including asylum seekers. Attorney Ahilan Arulanantham with the ACLU of Southern California told AlterNet, “Obviously, if the government's intentions are to care for refugees displaced by a natural disaster, we have no problem with that. But with the numbers of detentions, which have exploded since 1996 and more so after Sept. 11 — and remember after 9/11, the government detained over 1,000 people in New York City, none of whom were linked to terrorist activity — based on stories like these, we fear that their program could victimize people fleeing persecution or calamity, the very people that the program is designed to help.”

The most recent award to KBR announced on Jan. 3, 2006, extends and expands the existing contract, as part of the DHS Contingency Support Project and ICE's Detention and Removal Program. Kellogg, Brown and Root will get $481,212 per year to maintain readiness.

“Rapid response capability is expensive,” writes one Fort Worth district Army Corps contracting officers, in a memorandum. If called into duty, KBR would have access to a maximum amount of $385 million per deployment. Given the increased frequency and intensity of Gulf region hurricanes alone, five deployments would cost more than $1.9 billion dollars over five years.

Each of the four detention centers would accommodate a single male population consisting of 40 percent of the total detainees, 10 percent single female, 40 percent families with children, and 10 percent criminal and sick. Each location will have three different checkpoints: a temporary staging facility where up to 5,000 can be housed and fed for up to 72 hours, and 1,800 can be processed a day; a transfer point holding up to 600 migrants for up to three months before relocation; and to accommodate longer stays for criminal and sick detainees, a temporary detention center where potential terrorist threats can be processed for “rendition” to a site outside the continental United States. Notable among the specifications for KBR is the Department of Defense security requirement for “secret” classification of assigned personnel.

Relating to potential task orders, a Corps memorandum states: “Although this contract will be executed inside the United States, it is likely to be used only during periods of significant political unrest affecting countries near to the United States. Such unrest, quite apart from its impact in creating a large number of refugees, may constitute a serious threat to the United States, which could result in the deployment of military forces. This contract requires an immediate stand up of facilities that will receive a large influx of refugees. It is anticipated that the refugees will not speak the language, and the circumstances may involve a hostile environment within the camp. Consequently, a potential for violence will exist in the camps. While there may or may not be a deployment of U.S. troops, there certainly will be a deployment of border patrol and other law enforcement agents, in a quasi-military manner.”

These elements alarm human rights supporters both inside and outside the US Army Corps of Engineers. One anonymous source within USACE warned, “Dont wait until they're putting people behind barbed wire. Dont wait until the cattle cars pull up. Nip this in the bud.”

A representative from the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee remarked, “To offer help at gunpoint, where people are not free to accept or reject it, is not really help.”

An ICE spokesman told the New York Times on Feb. 4, 2006 that if a migration emergency does not happen, the detention centers may never need to be built. In fact, KBR is not planning to build anything. Existing structures, be they a local stadium, warehouse or airplane hangar, will be leased for a given period of time.

The prospective demand and requirements for this expanded emergency response activity is in the hands of government agencies. They'll be the ones to decide what constitutes an emergency, be it Category 4 hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, coup d'etats in Haiti, African killer bee-induced evacuations of Northern Mexico or, less dramatically, the mass influx of immigrants that crosses the U.S. border after the Christmas holidays. Whatever the emergency is, and whatever poor folks will be rounded up, one thing is certain: They will not be free to leave, and their hosts for the next five years will be Kellogg, Brown and Root.

Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

About the reporter

Joseph Richey

Joseph Richey

Joseph Richey is an independent researcher, reporter, translator, and poet.

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