LAST WEEK’S WALKOUT by workers at Boston-based Wayfair put a spotlight on the issue of businesses contracting to provide goods to detention facilities on the US-Mexican border. But the online retailer’s sale of $200,000 of bedroom furniture to the detention centers is hardly the biggest contract with the border patrol agency of a Massachusetts company.
Billerica-based American Science and Engineering Inc., which develops x-ray technology, has received $171 million in payments from US Customs and Border Protection since 2015. The payments include $140 million in July 2018 for the border agency’s cargo, vehicle, and parcel inspection systems.
The Federal Procurement Data System, an online database of federal contracts, shows that 24 Massachusetts businesses have received almost $180 million in payments from Customs and Border Protection from 2010 to June 24, 2019, including a consulting contract posted last month for Brigham and Women’s Hospital to provide advice on medical care for children.
Conditions for children being held in border detention facilities have been a particularly controversial issue, with advocates and elected officials who have visited the centers describing overcrowded facilities lacking even basic sanitary supplies like toothbrushes.
On June 13, according to the federal database, Brigham and Women’s Hospital was awarded $150,000 by the border patrol agency to assist in providing an office of physicians for emergency relief.
A spokesman in the Boston office of the Department of Homeland Security, which the oversees Customs and Border Protection, said the border patrol agency is required to secure the services of a medical professional who specializes in “humanitarian and or pediatric medical triage techniques” to develop screening protocols for identifying children and unaccompanied minors who are “seriously ill or injured and require advanced assessment or care.”
Brigham and Women’s Hospital released a statement saying that emergency physician Michael VanRooyen is consulting with Customers and Border Protection to “enable the children arriving at the border to receive necessary medical services.” The hospital says VanRooyen has “many years of experience managing health programs in complex humanitarian crises around the world.” VanRooyen was not available for comment.
VanRooyen is director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and chairman of the Brigham‘s Department of Emergency Medicine. VanRooyen‘s experience stems from working as an emergency physician for relief organizations in 30 countries, and as a policy advisor for the World Health Organization. Domestically, he worked with the American Red Cross on relief assistance following the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University also received a $150,000 contract to devise medical protocols for migrants on the southern border, according to the university’s student newspaper Columbia Spectator, with that contract continuing through November 2020.
The border patrol spending data were originally highlighted by nonprofit media outlet Sludge in a national story last week reporting that Customers and Border Protection has paid $6.4 billion to 1,123 outside vendors for multiple product services since 2010. More than a third of the vendor purchases were made in 2018.
After the $171 million in payments to American Science and Engineering, the next largest payments to a Massachusetts firm over the nine-year period went to GTV Innovative Solutions of Westfield, which has received more than $4.8 million for “preparation and disposal of excess property.”
Among the more curious payments by the border patrol agency to Massachusetts vendors was $282,000 to Boston Red Dog Pet Resort Space Inc., which operates doggie day care centers and an animal hospital.
Three Massachusetts congressional delegation members — Ayanna Pressley, Joe Kennedy, and Lori Trahan — visited migrant detention centers in El Paso and Clint, Texas, on Monday to observe what many call dismal conditions for hundreds of detained children.
Kennedy wrote about the experience on Twitter, saying that the facilities “are wholly inadequate,” and described cells maxed to capacity, concrete floors, teary detainees, and CBP officials attempting to block photos and videos. Major protests were planned for Tuesday across the country to demand the closure of detention facilities that hold migrant children and families that have crossed the border illegally or to seek asylum.