The worsening border crisis landed on Ahwatukee’s doorstep last Thursday as an unknown number of migrant families took up the Holiday Inn Express & Suites on 50th Street and Ray Road, lighting up social media with rumors, unanswered questions and arguments over immigration policy.
Fueling all that was the relatively scant information released by federal immigration officials about how many families had been lodged at the Holiday Inn Express, the specific duration of their stay and the number of hotels and motels in Ahwatukee, the Valley and Arizona were hosting them.
The housing of the migrant families is being handled by a San Antonio, Texas, nonprofit called Endeavors as well as Family Endeavors.
It received an $86.9 million contract to provide what federal authorities said is “1,239 beds for emergency temporary shelter and basic living needs” through September.
Even before this particular contract, IRS filings by the nonprofit show Endeavors has received more than $40 million annually the last three years in various city, state and federal grants and contracts to provide a wide range of services to veterans, the homeless and migrants.
When asked by the Ahwatukee Foothills News about the migrants’ arrival, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a statement and declined to answer specific questions.
The statement read:
“Starting April 9 in Texas and Arizona, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will provide emergency temporary shelter and process families placed in its custody through a short-term contract with Endeavors. The border is not open and individuals continue to be expelled under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) public health authority.
“The families that come into ICE custody will be housed in a manner consistent with legal requirements for the safety and well-being of children and their parents or guardians. Custody is intended to be short term, generally less than 72 hours, to allow for immigration enforcement processing and establishing appropriate terms and conditions of release while their immigration proceedings continue. All families will be tested for COVID-19 and receive a health assessment.”
Neither Arizona U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly nor U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, whose district includes Ahwatukee, responded to AFN’s requests for more information – including whether they had asked ICE for a briefing or whether the agency informed them about its plans.
A spokeswoman for Arizona U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema stated:
“As Chair of the Subcommittee on Border Management, Senator Sinema is working to ensure the administration takes meaningful steps to support our border communities and NGOs, secure the border, prevent the spread of COVID-19, and treat all migrants and unaccompanied children fairly and humanely.
“ICE recently confirmed that several hotels along the southwest border, including in Chandler and Phoenix, will serve as Emergency Family Reception Sites — providing increased capacity to process migrants, but not serving as long-term detention facilities.
“Senator Sinema spoke directly with DHS Secretary Mayorkas and has called on the Department to provide more resources in Arizona to manage the flow of migrants. Senator Sinema is continuing to monitor the situation and will hold Secretary Mayorkas and DHS accountable for protecting Arizona communities and ensuring all migrants are treated fairly and humanely.”
Holiday Inn officials did not respond to requests for comment and the driveway to its Ahwatukee hotel was blocked over the weekend. The hotel is not accepting reservations before late June, though it does not say why.
Some residents claimed they saw small refrigerators and mattresses being unloaded at the site last Wednesday and Thursday. They also provided AFN with photos of unmarked buses – with no licenses mounted on them – parked on the hotel lot.
According to ICE, migrant family units will be housed together on a short-term basis while they go through routine DHS processing. ICE has also confirmed all migrants will be tested for COVID and provided meals.
Following CDC guidelines, those who test positive for COVID-19 will have space available to remain in quarantine for 10 days.
Services provided to individuals at the Holiday Inn and other locations include short term, emergency lodging, including meals for each occupant; electrostatic cleaning, hygiene kits, laundry services as needed; access to legal service providers and information on the immigration legal process; access to medical and mental health care services; and transportation to regional airports/bus stations compliant with COVID-19 protocols.
ICE will apply its Family Residential Standards as its quality-of-care model for all of those housed at the hotels, “with modifications to educational services at both and limited recreational facilities at the hotels,” one source said on condition of anonymity.
Families will be provided clothing, meals/snacks, access to medical care, legal counsel, unlimited phone access and individual rooms for appropriate physical distancing, the source added.
ICE also was said to be coordinating with non-governmental organizations to provide families with temporary shelter upon their release, as well as food, water, clothing, and transportation services “to help mitigate strains placed on resources in the local community,” the source said.
Neither Phoenix City Hall nor the Ducey Administration apparently was provided any details on the migrants’ sheltering.
“Because this is a federal thing, sometimes our federal partners may find out about these types of issues before us,” said C.J. Karamargin, Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman.
Ahwatukee Councilman Sal DiCiccio said “nobody knew at City Hall” until late Thursday and that he learned of the families’ arrivals even before Phoenix Police had been informed. “They were shocked by that,” he said of police. “They said they had no idea this was happening.
“It’s going to be all families,” DiCiccio said, adding that he received very limited information and that all he had been told the families were from the Yuma and Tucson sectors.
The families who are being housed by Endeavors did sneak across the border illegally but are seeking asylum.
The right to seek asylum was incorporated into international law following the atrocities of World War II. Congress adopted key provisions of the Geneva Refugee Convention, including the international definition of a refugee, into U.S. immigration law when it passed the Refugee Act of 1980.
However, asylum seekers do not automatically have a right to stay in the U.S.
Rather, they typically are placed in either immigration court removal proceedings, where they will have a future opportunity to make their case before an administrative judge, or in expedited removal proceedings, which allow border agents to deport them without a hearing.
Endeavors is providing shelter while the migrants await these proceedings.
Endeavors boasts on its website of being “a longstanding national nonprofit agency that provides various programs and services supporting children, families, veterans, and those struggling with mental illness, disabilities, disasters, or emergencies. Endeavors has served vulnerable people in need since 1969 through personalized services.”
It contracts with private landlords – including, apparently, owners of little used hotels – and says it “specializes in case management and provides financial assistance to homeless individuals and their families.”
“Endeavors case managers work individually with clients to remove barriers to housing and provide connections to wrap-around services, including financial literacy education, job skills training, benefits enrollment, mental health services and life skills training,” it says on its website.
Basel Mousslly, Endeavors’ deputy director of migrant services, is himself a refugee, having fled to the U.S. from war-ravaged Syria, according to his biography.
Endeavors describes its migrant services as including “direct care, migrant wellness support, case management, home study and post-release services, staffing, and holistic programming for unaccompanied migrant children and families.”
“Seeking protection from the persecution and deteriorating social and economic conditions in their home countries, increasing amounts of migrant children and families have traveled to the United States hoping to make better lives for themselves,” Endeavors states on its website.
“Through our Migrant Services programs, we provide direct care, migrant wellness support, case management, home study and post-release services, staffing, and holistic programming for unaccompanied migrant children and families. Endeavors has served migrants since 2012.”