Migrants take shelter and live inside of the Near West 12th police precinct in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., August 29, 2023. Credit: Jim Vondruska for Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — A company contracted to helped ship migrants from Florida to Democrat-led cities has been hired by Chicago officials to build tent cities for migrants, records show. 

City officials signed a $29 million contract with Virginia-based GardaWorld Federal Services and its subsidiary Aegis Defense Services on Sept. 12 for the firm to “provide temporary housing, on an as-needed basis” for asylum seekers, records show

The contract was signed about a week after Mayor Brandon Johnson said he planned to move migrants from police stations into “winterized base camps.” 

There are 2,200 migrants waiting to be transitioned from police stations and Chicago airports to one of the 21 shelters across the city.

Example of one type of base camp GardaWorld Federal Services could provide. Credit: Provided.

Since the announcement, Johnson has not offered additional details about how this plan would work outside of saying it would be modeled after migrant tent shelters in New York City

The Mayor’s Office didn’t immediately respond to questions about the vetting process for GardaWorld or where and when the new “base camps” would be set up.

The Tribune reported Johnson’s administration said the contract allows the city to capitalize on an existing GardaWorld contract with the state and more quickly move hundreds of people out of police stations.

News of the contract was first reported by Crain’s Chicago Business.

GardaWorld, a Canadian company, specializes in security services, including security guards and armored trucks.

At least six “zones” using “indoor hard-sided lodging” would be set up by GardaWorld throughout Cook County and “collar counties” like DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will, according to the contract.

The contract did not specify where these “zones” would be located, when they’d be built or how long they’d be in operation. The contract end date is listed as Sept. 12, 2024.

They will house anywhere between 200 to 1,400 people. Monthly operational costs will run between $1.8 million and $5.9 million, according to the contract.

Example of one type of base camp GardaWorld Federal Services could provide. Credit: Provided.

One of the housing options GardaWorld will provide is a “yurt” that has 665 square feet of interior room and can fit families of 12 or less in the same compartment, according to the contract.

These yurts would be used as “indoor hard-sided lodging,” according to the contract.

“For outdoors soft-sided lodging, [GardaWorld] will provide a turnkey basecamp with ClearSpan fabric structures with rip-stop fabric weave, natural ventilation, armshield cover and multiple foundation options to allow flexibility in building location,” according to the contract. 

In addition to providing lodging, the GardaWorld contract also lists “turn-key emergency logistics” like providing migrants with security, heat and air conditioning, bedding, linens, lockable storage for each bed, sanitary facilities like mobile restroom trailers, hand washing stations, showers, laundry and other services. 

Subcontractors will be used to meet the goals, according to the contract.

A group of tents asylum seekers are living out of on Sept. 14, 2023. The tents are set up in the park just south of the Chicago Police 12th District station, which is at capacity as a temporary shelter. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago

GardaWorld has stoked controversy in other cities for its treatment of asylum seekers, according to media reports. 

GardaWorld is one of three firms hired by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to transport asylum seekers to Democrat-led cities, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Denver Post reported GardaWorld contracted with the federal government to run a center at Fort Bliss, Texas, for unaccompanied migrant children crossing the border. The inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health And Human Services singled out substandard living conditions for the children and insufficient training for staff at the facility, saying children suffered panic attacks and other issues while facing long waits to see a case manager.

The company also oversaw detention centers in Canada that generated similar backlash for its conditions, South Side Weekly reported.

In July, Denver’s City Council decided not to finalize a $40 million contract with GardaWorld after the contractor misrepresented its experience helping migrants, according to the Denver Post.

GardaWorld has been hired to build tent shelters after hurricanes but doesn’t have experience sheltering migrants seeking asylum, according to the Denver Post.

In a statement after this story was published, a GardaWorld spokesperson said the company was not responsible for “case management” at the Fort Bliss facility, and that the contract awarded to the firm to move migrants by the Florida Division of Emergency Management “was never activated.”

“[GardaWorld] provided no services related to the populations in question in Florida,” the company statement read.

GardaWorld referred additional questions to Chicago officials.

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The family of companies that includes GardaWorld Federal has faced scrutiny in its other divisions, as well.

A Tampa Bay Times investigation in 2020 found its armored truck division, tasked with transporting millions of dollars across the country, took shortcuts that put unsafe trucks on the roads — resulting in nearly two dozen deaths.

A federal government agency also reportedly warned a division of the company that its trucks were crashing too often, but Garda still faced few consequences for “a national pattern of error-prone drivers and unsafe trucks.”

That same investigation found GardaWorld secretly lost track of millions of dollars in its vaults and concealed the missing money from its clients.

Last year, GardaWorld’s security division also faced accusations from a whistleblower for defrauding the federal government when it allegedly falsified Georgia training records for nearly 100 guards sent to Afghanistan, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ald. Andre Vasquez Jr. (40th) at a City Council meeting on Sept. 14, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Since August 2022, Chicago has hosted 14,000 migrants after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other border state politicians began bussing them to Chicago. 

The majority of the arrivals are from Venezuela, which has struggled with political upheaval and an economic crisis resulting in severe food and medicine shortages, surging inflation, rising unemployment and violent crime.

Migrants continue to arrive daily by both bus and plane. 

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) has previously been critical of the plan for the camps and told Block Club he had concerns about how city officials vetted GardaWorld before finalizing a contract with them, he said.

“If we’re taking tax dollars to give to the folks that we know, are potentially busing migrants over to Chicago, that is a much larger concern,” Vasquez said. “There’s clearly concern for conflict when, in effect, you have somebody being quarterback and receiver.”

Vasquez, chair of City Council’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, has pushed for the city to convert existing city property into long term shelters. He’s also repeatedly asked for the federal government to expedite work permissions for migrants so they can start building their lives here and get out of shelters altogether.

“I do recognize that it’s challenging for a municipal government to figure out what we need to do in this moment to just decompress a police stations. I do recognize that,” Vasquez said. “But I do think we’d be better served spending money to actively lease, acquire or rehab the current buildings we have.”

Vasquez plans to discuss the contract at the Sept. 29 hearing of his committee, he said.

“I’m concerned about the amount we’re talking about and all of the above. I think there’s a lot to answer for,” Vasquez said. “I’m also trying to identify what part the council plays in any of the decision making. I don’t know if this is all through the executive branch or is this something the City Council has to vote on at some point?”

Block Club Chicago’s Manny Ramos contributed.

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