DHS seeks contractor to run migrant detention facility at Gitmo, guards who speak Haitian Creole

DHS told NBC News it is not sending "and will not send Haitian nationals being encountered at the southwest border" to the Guantanamo Bay facility.


WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is advertising for a new contract to operate a migrant detention facility at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, with a requirement that some of the guards speak Spanish and Haitian Creole, according to government records.

A little-known immigrant holding facility on the base has a capacity of 120 people, the records say, and it "will have an estimated daily population of 20 people," according to a solicitation for bids issued Friday by the Department of Homeland Security. According to the solicitation, formal bidding is expected to take place later this fall.

"The service provider shall be responsible to maintain on site the necessary equipment to erect temporary housing facilities for populations that exceed 120 and up to 400 migrants in a surge event," the contract solicitation says.

The records provided no indication that the Biden administration is planning to transfer migrants from the southern border to Guantánamo Bay. In the recent past, migrants picked up at sea have been housed there for short periods.

On Thursday, after publication of this article, White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki told reporters that the administration would not be sending Haitian migrants from the southern U.S. border to the facility, and said, “There’s never been a plan to do that. I think there was some confusion related to the Migrant Operations Center, which has been used for decades to process migrants interdicted at sea for third-country resettlement.” She said the solicitation for bids “caused some confusion because of the timing,” but was “routine,” posted as the first step in a contract renewal, “and unrelated to the southern border.”

An unused portion of the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Oct. 16, 2018.Maren Hennemuth / picture alliance via Getty Images file

In a statement to NBC News, DHS said it "is not [sending] and will not send Haitian nationals being encountered at the southwest border to the Migrant Operations Center (MOC) in Guantanamo Bay. The MOC has been used for decades to process migrants interdicted at sea for third-country resettlement. The request for information (RFI) recently posted is a typical, routine first step in a contract renewal, and unrelated to the Southwest Border."

"The contract was initially awarded in 2002 with the current term ending on May 31, 2022. Migrants awaiting resettlement who are not in ICE custody at the MOC are neither detained nor imprisoned and are free at any time to return to their country of origin.”

Guantánamo Bay is best known these days as the site of a prison for high-value terrorism detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed 9/11 mastermind, who is on trial there before a military commission. But the base has long included a DHS immigration holding facility — one with a controversial past linked to Haiti.

During the George H.W. Bush administration from 1991 to 1993, when many Haitians sought to flee the country to seek asylum in Florida, as many as 12,000 were sent to Guantánamo Bay under a policy overseen by then-Attorney General William Barr.

Immigrants' advocates said at the time that the policy was driven in part by the fact that some of the Haitians were HIV-positive.

In recent years, successive administrations have spent millions of dollars on infrastructure at the DHS facility, building cement pads for tents and buildings with crude latrines.

President Donald Trump talked about sending migrants there, but he never did, according to a book by an author later identified as Miles Taylor, a former DHS official.

"Before the president could make a public case for the concept, officials quashed it," Taylor wrote.

The new DHS contract solicitation says that the winning bidder would have to supply tents and cots and that "the contractor must be able to have these assembled and ready with little notice," adding, "In addition, the service provider must maintain a roster of at least 50 individuals who meet the minimum requirements of the unarmed custody officer job classification and have a viable contingency plan to deploy these individuals within 24 hours of notification."

It adds: "At least 10% of the augmented personnel must be fluent in Spanish and Haitian Creole. Air transportation to/from the facility is the sole responsibility of the service provider."