The woman who oversaw family separation under President Donald Trump was the leader of the U.S. Border Patrol. She later got a job assuring the care for migrant children as the number of border crossings rose in early 2021.
Former Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost became site director at the Pecos Children’s Center, a 2,000-bed privately run emergency shelter in West Texas for migrant children, according to records obtained by RevealThe Center for Investigative Reporting.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a contract worth up to $789 million with the San Antonio-based nonprofit Endeavors to run the site, located on a former workers’ camp at an abandoned oil field. According to the company Provost is no more site director but is currently an Endeavors contract. A Department of Health and Human Services official said the agency didn’t know Provost ran the Pecos shelter, and federal rules prohibit it from controlling contractors’ hiring and firing decisions.
Migrant children’s shelters house unaccompanied minors who are held indefinitely until they’re reunited with a sponsor.
Shelters are usually managed by social service contractors who are trained to supervise the well-being and welfare of children from refugee families. Provost’s background, however, is in law enforcement — and during her tenure at the top under the Trump administration, migrant children in particular bore the brunt of the government’s crackdown on immigrants.
The shelters do not belong to the Border Patrol or U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They are managed under federal contracts and grants by the federal Office of Refugee Resetlement. This office is responsible for the specialized care of migrant kids who wish to reunite in the United States.
Provost led the Border Patrol through Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, which meant adults would no longer be exempt from the criminal charge of improper entry because they had minor children; as a result, immigration agents ripped children from their parent’s arms at the border and housed them separately.
Provost’s tenure was a particularly fatal stretch for children, with four dying in the agency’s care in a six-month span. Provost was also criticized. her membershipin a xenophobic Facebook page populated by past and current Border Patrol officers. Members of the group shared memes and jokes about migrant deaths that were first reported in a 2019 Facebook group. ProPublica investigation.
Provost, who resigned from the Border Patrol in January 2020 could not be reached to comment.
In a statement Reveal, an Endeavors spokesperson said, “Provost served as director of the Pecos facility from its opening in March 2021 through May 2021,” adding that “she has continued to serve as a contractor with Endeavors on a variety of projects.”
Endeavors also stated that Provost served under Democrats and Republicans through four administrations and simply did her job during Trump’s zero-tolerance policy at the border, implementing family separation “in accordance with the law.”
Setareh Ghandehari, an advocacy director for Detention Watch Network, described news of Provost’s involvement at the Pecos shelter as “appalling.”
“Carla Provost, who was complicit in tearing hundreds of children apart from the loving care of their families, cannot be trusted with caring for children,” she said.
During the year and a half Provost was the permanent Border Patrol chief, at least four migrant children — one as young as 2 years old — died after being apprehended by her agents. Although the agency doesn’t maintain a comprehensive list of deaths in custody, advocacy groups documenting deaths show the spate under Provost’s tenure was unusual: The Southern Border Communities Coalition’s tracker lists one child’s death in custody from 2010 until Provost became chief in August 2018.
The inspector general’s office at the Department of Homeland Security investigated the May 2019 death of Carlos Hernández Vásquez, a 16-year-old from Guatemala who died at the Border Patrol’s station in Weslaco, Texas, during Provost’s tenure. The watchdog found that the Border Patrol “did not conduct regular and frequent physical checks” as required by national detention standards and that an agent falsified hourly welfare checks.
Federal and state prosecutors declined to pursue any charges, saying there weren’t criminal violations or criminal intent in the child’s death. A medical examiner ruled Hernández Vásquez’s cause of death was H1N1 flu and bacterial/staph infections.
His death was among the tragedies that members of the “I’m 10-15” Facebook group made light of. Provost acknowledgedAfter her membership was reported to The Intercept, she was a member the xenophobic Facebook Group for Current and Former Border Patrol Agents. According to the media organization, her few comments were harmless. Others posted disturbing images of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.) and questions about whether the drowning of a migrant father, along with his daughter, 23 months, was staged.
Endeavors stated that Provost has left and that she self-reported her Facebook membership. Endeavors also condemned the inappropriate posts. Customs and Border Protection didn’t find any evidence to support an administrative proceeding against her.
After 25 years in Border Patrol, she was ready to retire.
“As I start my next chapter in life, know that I’ll always support the men & women of the Patrol,” Provost tweeted.
A No-Bid Contract to Provide Emergency Migrant Shelter
Soon after President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, an increased number of migrant children — previously barred from seeking asylum — made their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. The Biden administration partnered with Endeavors and other organizations in order to operate 14 emergency shelters. Some are located in military bases or convention centers.
EndeavorsIn recent years, unhoused veterans were the most prominent beneficiaries. The company declined to answer questions regarding whether it had previously sheltered unaccompanied children prior to 2021.
The Pecos shelter, like all emergency shelters for migrants, is not licensed by state. This means that it is not subjected to the same safety and health oversight as other shelters for children.
The federal government’s no-bid contract with Endeavors caught the attention of Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. It was two months after Andrew LorenzenStrait, a former ICE officer and appointee to the Biden transition team was hired as a senior administrator. Lorenzen-Strait referred questions to Endeavors, which didn’t respond to a question about the timing of the contract.
“(T)he size of the contracts awarded to (Endeavors), the manner in which they were awarded, that firm’s lack of equivalent experience, the timing of Mr. Lorenzen-Straight’s (sic) hiring, and his connections to the Biden administration combine to raise serious concerns of potential impropriety,” Congress members wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.
The department didn’t respond to the letter; a Republican committee aide said in a statement that the party remains committed to holding the agency accountable.
The Department of Health and Human Services contract shelters. Its main operation is social services. The Department of Homeland Security and its agencies (including the Border Patrol) focuses on enforcement. Provost has close ties to the border enforcement community.
In August 2021, the Border Security Expo, a conference, trade exhibition and sharpshooter demonstration focused on perceived threats to national security, announced Provost as the group’s new advisory board chair.
Provost hosted the opening panel of the expo in March. It mainly featured representatives from federal and state law enforcement agencies.
Provost is listed in the list as the former Border Patrol chief. There is no mention of her recent work for Endeavors. None of the events listed on the scheduleWe were particularly concerned with migrant kids.
This story was edited and copied by Sumi Aggarwal, Andrew Donohue, and Kate Howard.
Aura Bogado can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her Twitter: @aurabogado.
This story was created by RevealThe Center for Investigative Reporting, an independent news organization. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to their weekly newsletter at revealnews.org/newsletter.