Last week, we discovered that former White House chief of staff and alleged “adult in the room” John Kelly is now on the board of Caliburn International, the company that runs the biggest shelter for migrant youth separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Kelly had a hand in pushing the policy while he was in the administration. This is pretty sketchy, to say the least.
Now, the ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is requesting that the government turn over any information they have on Kelly’s relationship with Caliburn International, according to CBS.
“There is a strong public interest in the requested documents. While in government, Kelly was directly involved in implementing the family separation policy, and he now works for a for-profit operator of child detention centers, Caliburn, that has reaped substantial financial benefits from that very policy,” CREW attorney Nikhel Sus writes. “The public has a compelling interest in learning whether Kelly was involved in any communications with or decisions concerning Caliburn or its related entities, both while he was in government and following his departure from the White House in January 2019.”
Kelly was integral to the creation and implementation of the inhumane family separation policy. Only a few months into the Trump presidency, Kelly told the press that the Department of Homeland Security was considering such a policy as a deterrent to illegal immigration.
“We have tremendous experience of dealing with unaccompanied minors,” Kelly told CNN in March 2017. “We turn them over to [Health and Human Services] and they do a very, very good job of putting them in foster care or linking them up with parents or family members in the United States.”
“Yes I’m considering [separating families], in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network,” Kelly added. “I am considering exactly that. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents... It’s more important to me, Wolf, to try to keep people off of this awful network.”
But the several thousand children who ended up separated from their families after crossing into the U.S. in 2017 and 2018 were not, in fact, well cared for. Not only did the government not keep track of who they were separating and how to reunite them, multiple reports of abuse emerged from facilities where children were kept. We still haven’t managed to reunite as many as 55 children with their parents, some of whom were deported while the children were detained.
After the policy was announced in 2018, Kelly defended it, telling NPR that “[the] children will be taken care of—put into foster care or whatever. But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”
Caliburn International benefitted directly from the policy Kelly pushed and defended.
In the months after that policy was enacted, Comprehensive Health Services, a Caliburn company that is the only private company operating a shelter in the country, became one of the most dominant players in the industry. In August, it secured three licenses for facilities in Texas, totaling 500 beds, and in December its Homestead facility in Florida began expanding from a capacity of 1,250 beds, to 3,200.
Now, CREW wants to know how these contracts were approved, and whether Kelly had any hand in them.
“We’re looking to identify documents that may reveal whether or not [Kelly] was personally involved in any aspect of these contracts, whether he was briefed on them, or gave guidance with respect to how the government should administer them,” CREW’s chief ethics counsel Virginia Canter told CBS.
CREW is also investigating how Kelly was approved to visit the Homestead facility in April 2018. To visit an unaccompanied minor migrant facility, members of the public must be approved by HHS. Just four days after Kelly was granted approval to visit the facility, three Democrats, Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Shalala, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, were all denied entry.
“Any request to visit the facility needs to be cleared by the government, and the fact that you have three members of Congress who were denied access shows you that this is not something that is easily obtainable,” Canter told CBS.