Updated – Lawsuit Against Health and Human Services Highlights Need for Contractor Transparency

(Updated, November 15, 2019OTG successfully obtained documents showing General Dynamics was in fact integrally involved in approving, or denying, which family a child could live with while seeking immigration benefits, beyond its “third party verification” contract. The company is involved in screening, reviewing and approving immigration applications on thousands of children each year. It is also tasked with training and oversight of the HHS network of child detention facilities across the country.)

Open The Government filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services recently under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for failing to provide records on one of its contractors. The lawsuit stems from a FOIA request, originally opened in December 2018, made by Freddy Martinez, a policy analyst at OTG, after reviewing documents provided by a whistleblower. The documents pertain to General Dynamics, a major defense contractor, which is deeply integrated in the process of detaining children for ICE. The full scope of the contract and its involvement with child detention is currently unknown.

When children present themselves at the border, they are transferred from ICE into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services which is tasked with reuniting them with their family. As a condition for being reunified with their family, the government collects information about the life of the family. In turn, it uses a third party – in this case General Dynamics- to verify data collected is accurate. However, additional emails reviewed by Open The Government reveal General Dynamics is much more deeply embedded beyond “third party verification”. For example, General Dynamics also provided the Office of Refugee and Resettlement with logistical support under DHS’s “zero tolerance” policy.

The myriad of ways defense contractors profit from family separation warrants greater public scrutiny. Yet instead of transparency for the contracts, our request for records FOIA was delayed over nine months. To add insult to injury, our appeal to the DOJ for records was never responded to. All of this highlights the need for greater transparency around the use of defense contractors in our immigration system. 

Open The Government is represented by Loevy and Loevy, a leading civil rights firm that has successfully represents numerous clients in FOIA litigation.