Chicago, IL

Chicago Mayor, Security Firm Sign $29M Deal for Migrant Tents 4 Days After Presenting to Council

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Agreement between Mayor Johnson, and controversial firm GardaWorld for Chicago’s planned migrant ‘base camps’ similar to $125M deal already signed with Governor
Inside of migrant tent in New York which is similar to the ones Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson intends to erectPhoto byScreen grab NBC/Youtube

In a move that has raised eyebrows and stirred controversy, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has signed a $29 million contract with private security firm GardaWorld Federal Services, along with its subsidiary Aegis Defense Services, for the establishment of migrant 'base camps' in the city. The agreement was signed discreetly just four days after Johnson presented it to the Chicago City Council.

As the number of migrants arriving over the last year in Chicago has surpassed 13,000, Mayor Johnson is searching for ways to adequetly house and care for them. His latest plan involves moving migrants into enormous tents that house around 1000 people.

Johnson first briefed the Chicago City Council on Sept. 8th about his plans to move thousands of migrants into giant tents before winter came, just four days before signing the contract with GardaWorld. This development comes as part of Chicago's plan to create temporary facilities to house and support migrants seeking asylum or refuge in the city. The deal is in addition to the $125 million agreement the same company signed with the state of Illinois last year.

“My plan is to move with expediency, families out of police stations into housing and shelters that are more suitable,” Johnson said.

While the mayor is responsible for finding solutions to the migrant crisis in Chicago, the secretive nature of the contract, lack of details and controversies surrounding Guardaworld has drawn criticism from various quarters.

The contract signed by Mayor Johnson and GardaWorld Federal Services outlines the provision of security services, infrastructure development, and logistical support for the planned migrant 'base camps.' These facilities are expected to cater to the needs of migrants, including shelter, medical assistance, legal aid, suttle bus service and daily child care.

owever, while it has been indicated that these tents will house migrants throught the winter, the contract states that the tents can be heated to 70 degrees when it is 40 degrees outside. Most of Chicago winter days are below 40 degrees and often in single digits or below zero. There is no explanation of what happens when tempertures drop well below 40 degrees.

The hasty signing of the contract, without extensive public scrutiny, has led to concerns regarding accountability and oversight. Critics argue that such substantial agreements should undergo thorough review and evaluation, considering their financial implications and potential long-term consequences.

The biggest concern however, involves the Guardaworld itself. GardaWorld has faced numerous controversies recently.

Earlier this summer, Denver engaged in negotiations for a $40 million contract with GardaWorld. However, in June, Mayor Hancock withdrew from the deal due to criticism from local nonprofit leaders. The Denver Post reported that Denver had initially considered using the company to oversee migrant sheltering operations in the city. However, local leaders raised concerns, highlighting GardaWorld's history of alleged mistreatment and misconduct..

In 2022, the Office of the U.S. Inspector General discovered problems with GardaWorld's performance at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas. The company had been tasked with providing assistance to unaccompanied minors who had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. The report indicated that the services were deemed "inadequate" and had a detrimental impact on the well-being of the children.

Additionally, a division of GardaWorld based in Boca Raton, Florida, which offered armored truck services, was implicated in safety lapses. A 2020 investigation by the Tampa Bay Times revealed that the company cut corners on maintenance, leading to trucks frequently lacking reliable brakes and seat belts.

Furthermore, drivers with limited training or a history of unsafe driving were assigned to operate the vehicles. The investigation also uncovered instances where the company lost track of substantial amounts of client funds.

The most contentious dealings of Guardaworld is that they are getting paid on both sides of the crisis. In addition to the agreements the company has with Illinois and now the city of Chicago, Guardaworld also has a contract with Florida's Republican Governor Ron Desantis, to move migrants out of the state. They have helped Florida send thousands of migrants to Democrat run sanctuary cities including Chicago. Republican states, including Texas and Florida, sending bus and plane-loads of immigrants to Chicago has been one of the primary causes of the migrant crisis.

Mayor Johnson has defended his decision, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the humanitarian needs of migrants. However, calls for transparency and open dialogue persist, as residents and activists seek clarity on how taxpayer funds will be utilized and monitored, especially in regards to these new "tent shelters."

As the contract's details continue to emerge, it remains to be seen how the migrant 'base camps' will be established and operated, and how the city and its residents will be involved, if they are, in the planning of this endeavor.

Johnson first briefed the Chicago City Council on Sept. 8th about his plans to move thousands of migrants into giant tents before winter came, just four days before signing the contract with GardaWorld.

Furthermore, it is unclear how what this company is planning meets the description the mayor provided of these tents. Specifically, he has stated that each tent constructed will be large enough to house 1,000 migrants. Johnson has stated that the tents are like the ones used in New York. However, New York has different plans for the massive tents. According to officials the purpose of the tents in New York City is to house migrants for one to four days in order to assess them. After this, they will be transferred to an actual shelter. Johnson seems to have indicated that he potentially envisions migrants remaining there for the duration. There is no indication of a time table for how long each one will stay in these massive "camps" or where they will go once they leave the tents.

The image of the tents used in New York show row after row of folding cots lined up under a temporary tent.

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