Former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly has joined the board of Caliburn International, the parent organization of the company that runs the largest facility housing migrant children in the United States.
Kelly was President Trump’s chief of staff from mid-2017 through 2018, when the administration’s zero-tolerance policy was implemented at the U.S.-Mexico border. That led to thousands of Central American migrant children being separated from their parents and housed in facilities run by government contractors.
A Caliburn subsidiary, Comprehensive Health Services, runs a “temporary influx care facility” for migrant children in Homestead, Fla., under contract with the federal government. It is the only for-profit company operating such shelters. CBS first reported Kelly’s appointment to the Caliburn board.
“With four decades of military and humanitarian leadership, in-depth understanding of international affairs and knowledge of current economic drivers around the world, General Kelly is a strong strategic addition to our team,” Caliburn chief executive James Van Dusen said in a news release Friday.
Kelly, a retired four-star general, joined the Trump administration as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for the first half of 2017. In that role, Kelly said he considered family separations as a way to deter mass migration to the United States. The policy was implemented once Kelly joined the White House team. A federal judge has ordered the government to reunite more than 2,700 separated children with their families.
Many of the Central American migrants detained at the border are minors crossing without parents or guardians. According to Customs and Border Protection data, authorities encountered 22,173 unaccompanied minors at the border from January through March.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees housing for unaccompanied minors detained at the border, has been using the Homestead facility to cope with a surge of migrant children in need of temporary housing. Approximately 2,000 immigrant minors were residing in Homestead as of March 30, according to an HHS fact sheet, and bed capacity is being expanded from 2,350 to 3,200.
As CBS reported, “Located on several acres of federal land adjacent to an Air Reserve Base, the facility is the nation’s only site not subject to routine inspections by state child welfare experts.”
The health department’s Office of Inspector General is scrutinizing Homestead and other facilities because of reports of sexual abuse at government-funded shelters for immigrant minors. “We are deeply concerned that children in these large shelters and unlicensed facilities, such as the one in Homestead, Florida, are not adequately shielded from sexual violence,” Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote to the inspector general in a letter dated Feb. 28.
According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, “The Florida Department of Children and Families has investigated sexual-abuse claims at the [Homestead] facility, including two allegations that state records say involved staff and legal guardians caring for migrant children. Investigators later said there were no ‘indicators’ of abuse, but some lawmakers remain concerned.”
When the Obama administration used the Homestead facility to house immigrant minors, one worker attempted to “coerce and entice an unaccompanied alien minor to engage in illicit sexual activity” and was sentenced to prison in 2017, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in South Florida.
Before joining the Trump administration, Kelly sat on the board of advisers for DC Capital Partners, a private equity firm that owns Caliburn. An executive order signed by Trump bars Kelly from lobbying activities for five years after his government service, but Kelly is free to take jobs in the private sector.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, criticized Kelly for joining the company’s board. “John Kelly pushed for family separation while in the White House,” Warren tweeted. “Now he’ll profit off of separating mamas from their babies. It’s immoral, and under my plan to #EndCorruptionNow it would be illegal for someone like Kelly to do this.”
Kelly did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
A Caliburn spokeswoman confirmed Kelly’s appointment. The government contractor also runs shelter facilities in Texas. In a 2018 filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company identified “border enforcement and immigration policy” as a growth opportunity.