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Contractor that holds migrant children scraps plans for holiday party at Trump golf club

Contractor that holds migrant kids scraps party at Trump club
Contractor that holds migrant kids scraps plan for holiday party at Trump golf club 02:52

The invitations were out and RSVPs were due. But Caliburn International, a corporation with billions of dollars in government contracts, has scrapped plans to host a holiday party at the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, according to a company email sent Monday after CBS News first reported on the plans. 

The party at the Trump club had been scheduled for December 6, according to an invitation obtained by CBS News. An internal email was sent Monday afternoon announcing the change of venue to employees, and the company later confirmed the move in a statement to CBS News.

"Our team leaders have made the decision to change the venue so that our employee holiday event is focused on the spirit of compassion and thankfulness to our employees who work every day supporting missions of humanitarian service, national security, and medical care around the world," the company said.

Caliburn has faced criticism for its expanding operations dedicated to holding unaccompanied migrant children in government custody.

The decision by a government contractor to hold a party at a Trump property raised ethical questions that were unprecedented before Donald Trump's presidency, according to an attorney for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit government watchdog.

"Is it normal in this administration? Yes, but obviously for a contractor that has hundreds of millions of dollars in business before the federal government, I don't think it's any small coincidence that they're patronizing a Trump business," said Virginia Canter, CREW's chief ethics counsel and a former White House associate counsel to Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. "These facilities are ways for people to influence the administration. So it's not just buying influence, it's also buying access."

An invitation — obtained by CBS News — to a December 6, 2019 holiday party hosted by government contractor Caliburn International, at Trump International Golf Club in Potomac Falls, Virginia  CBS News

CBS News reported in May that former White House chief of staff John Kelly had joined Caliburn's board of directors. The report prompted calls for investigation of Kelly's role with the company.

Caliburn was formed in 2018 after an investment firm that Kelly had previously worked for bought Comprehensive Health Services, which operated one facility for migrant children in Homestead, Florida, and merged it together with three other companies focused on government contracting: Sallyport Global, Janus Global, and Project Time & Cost.

Shortly after that purchase, while Kelly was still in the White House, the government drastically expanded its business with Comprehensive Health Services, turning it into one of the dominant players in a growing industry focused on housing migrant children.

The Homestead facility that was operated by Comprehensive Health Services at the time of the purchase grew from an initial capacity of 1,250 to 3,200 beds. In 2019, the company also began operating at least four additional facilities in Texas.

In June, most of the two dozen Democratic presidential candidates who gathered for a debate in Miami also visited the Homestead facility, about a half-hour drive south. 

Some cited testimonials from children within the facility that had recently been filed in federal court. In the more than 600-page filing, children described fear and anxiety. They accused staff of falsely claiming that violations of basic rules like time limits on showering and a ban on touching could harm childrens' immigration cases. One testimonial described depressed children "cutting themselves." The lawyers argued the children were "harmed by lengthy detention at Homestead," where they were subject to "prison-like" rules.

As summer hit, the number of families and unaccompanied migrant children seeking to cross the border declined amid soaring desert temperatures — an annual decrease that immigration authorities have come to expect. By August 3, the Homestead facility was not housing children.

However, the government continued to pay millions to Caliburn to staff the empty site for months, at a rate of up to $720,000 per day. The agency in charge of overseeing the care of migrant children said it was staffing the site in case of a sudden influx of unaccompanied migrant children. The government later announced its Homestead contract with Caliburn would expire November 30.

Caliburn continues to operate its Texas facilities for migrant children, with a total current occupancy of at least 962 beds. There were "just under 4,000 minors" in custody nationwide as of November 12, according to government data.

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