Here's The Company Behind Trump's Controversial Border 'Tent Courts' For Migrants
It was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit on a mid-September day at the U.S. border when a group of migrants lined up for their immigration hearings for the first time in a prefabricated “tent court” in Brownsville, Texas, according to Erin Thorn Vela, a staff attorney at the Austin-based nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project.
It’s here where the Trump administration’s latest effort to prevent migrants from crossing the southern border has taken shape. Asylum seekers now must wait in Mexico before they can plea their case to a U.S. judge—who, since September, appears on a teleconferenced TV screen in one of these tents.
While tent courts have been criticized by immigration activists like Vela for their lack of transparency (she and two colleagues were denied access to hearings on her visit), they have provided a unique opportunity for a New York company more used to constructing tents for huge concerts: Deployed Resources, which Forbes found has been paid at least $48.9 million by the Department of Homeland Security to build and maintain two of these structures.
According to its website, Deployed Resources has provided popular music festivals such as Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and the Firefly Music Festival with a variety of services including mobile restrooms, sinks and tents. It was also hired by the U.S. government for emergency relief work during 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Florence. Robb Napior, listed as Deployed Resources’ managing member, and Rich Stapleton, who is CEO, did not respond to requests for an interview. “We do not comment on contracts and projects we have with government agencies. We are proud of the work we do for all of our clients and the efficient way we mobilize on their behalf,” Deployed Resources told Forbes in a statement.
“The soft-sided immigration hearing locations will allow [Executive Office for Immigration Review] to realign resources and focus on [Migrant Protection Protocols] dockets,” Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Matthew Dyman told Forbes. “This will result in hearings being scheduled and completed more quickly, allowing aliens to have their claims heard in much less time.”
Critics like Vela, though, have raised concerns about the restricted access to these facilities. “There are many reasons why it’s important that there should be more access in a court,” adds Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First in Texas. According to Acer, access allows lawyers working with nonprofits to conduct legal consultations and presentations for migrants to help them better understand the asylum process. A September report by the ACLU called attention to the limited access advocates, journalists and lawyers have to asylum seekers and argued that the latest protocols were a way “to make it so difficult and dangerous to apply for asylum that people will simply give up and return to the persecution they fled.”
Yet the demand for tent courts could grow, following the Supreme Court’s September decision that allows the administration to ban most asylum seekers from Central America.
Before that, in August, the Department of Homeland Security announced it shifted $155 million from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to “establish and operate temporary Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) Immigration Hearing Facilities along the Southwest border.”
And a month before that, Deployed Resources was awarded a year-long contract to build the tent courts; under the contract, the company could be paid as much as $99.4 million (the federal government has paid Deployed Resources $48.9 million since July this year). Deployed Resources has so far built two temporary “tent” courts in Texas—in Brownsville and Laredo—and will continue to maintain them, according to Customs and Border Protection. The contract requires the building of “temporary facilities” that “shall include all mechanical, electrical, plumbing, communications, information technology, and other infrastructure as required for a fully operational facility,” according to a federal database.
Earlier this year, Deployed Resources also received contracts to build detention facilities in Tornillo, Texas, and in Donna, Texas, according to a federal government database, as well as a holding facility in Yuma, Arizona. In total, the company has pulled in over $260 million from the U.S. government so far in 2019, which could mean $25 million in profits for Deployed Resources, based on profit margins in the industry. Both Napior and Stapleton draw a salary of $700,000, according to the federal database. Christopher DeNicolo, an analyst at S&P Global, says that short-term government contracts like these tend to have higher profit margins because the government can be willing to pay more to solve an emergency. Yet DeNicolo suggests that doesn’t make for the most stable business, saying, “It’s hard with any company, if your revenue bounces that much, to maintain profitability.”
The tent courts are a direct result of the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP)—also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy—issued in January, which require migrants who seek asylum at the U.S. border be held only briefly at the border before being sent back to Mexico if they are not Mexican nationals, pregnant, or with disabilities (although there have been reports about such groups being sent back as well). Asylum-seekers wait for their immigration hearings in small towns in Mexico where they may face serious danger, according to multiple nonprofits. As of November 18, 2019, there were at least 400 publicly reported cases of rape, torture or kidnapping of these asylum-seekers and migrants, according to the Texas-based nonprofit Human Rights First.
Tent courts are unlike any immigration court in the U.S. because inside, there are no judges; both the judge and the federal immigration counsel appear at a tent court via video conferencing, according to multiple people who have observed the video conferences, which are open to the public. During a hearing that was teleconferenced in San Antonio, a woman told the judges that her cousin was kidnapped at a bus stop in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, just across the U.S. border, Casey Miller, a court observer and organizer in San Antonio, told Forbes. “Having to access justice via these tent courts is absolutely not accessing any kind of justice that [migrants] would if they were able to be here safely in the United States,” Texas Civil Rights Project’s Vela says.
Since it was founded in 2001, Deployed Resources has done work in 40 states and provides services in emergency response, mission support, event support as well as equipment; from laundry and gyms to kitchens and toilets. The company boasts on one of its job postings that it “has recently made a multimillion-dollar investment in a fabrication facility and tooling to expand into new markets of custom builds for clients in the government, commercial, and entertainment markets.” Napior’s personal blog says he has been in the logistics business since the mid-1970s, and according to his and Stapleton’s professional profiles, the duo have been the managing members since the company’s founding.
Before the latest government contracts, according to press accounts, the company was best known for handling big concerts. In 2018 and 2019, Deployed Resources was on the ground at the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee, which reportedly sold 80,000 tickets in 2019, providing technical staff, water distribution, hand wash sinks, office containers and tents. For the past two years, Deployed Resources provided portable bathrooms for Delaware’s Firefly Music Festival. In 2017, the firm supplied more than 900 urinals, toilets, and sinks at the Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park, Illinois, according to a blog post by Napior. Time Out Chicago even said Deployed Resources’ mobile toilets were one of the “five best things” at Lollapalooza that year.
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