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Southwest Border: DHS Coordinates with and Funds Nonprofits Serving Noncitizens

GAO-23-106147 Published: Apr 19, 2023. Publicly Released: Apr 19, 2023.
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Fast Facts

Some noncitizens are released from custody while they wait for resolution of their immigration court cases. When the Department of Homeland Security releases them, it may coordinate with nonprofit organizations to help them with their immediate food, shelter, and travel needs.

One DHS grant program offers funds for these nonprofits to help local communities better manage the costs of new arrivals. In fiscal years 2019, 2021, and 2022, it provided more than $282 million to reimburse nonprofits and governmental organizations for their services. This Q&A includes information on DHS's coordination with nonprofits, the services provided, and more.

A person carrying a box of food.

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What GAO Found

Nonprofit organizations (nonprofits) along the southwest border provide services such as food, shelter, and travel assistance when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) releases noncitizens into the U.S. while they await proceedings in immigration court. About two-thirds of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field locations in states along the southwest border reported coordinating with local nonprofits when releasing noncitizens from DHS custody. Officials said they conduct this coordination to avoid, to the greatest extent possible, releasing noncitizens directly into border communities without immediate support.

DHS's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Emergency Food and Shelter Program provided more than $282 million in humanitarian relief grant funding to nonprofit and governmental organizations. This grant funding covered services provided to noncitizens in fiscal years 2019, 2021, and 2022 (no funding was appropriated to the Emergency Food and Shelter Program for humanitarian relief in fiscal year 2020). DHS has not entered into any contracts with nonprofits to provide services to noncitizens after they are released from custody.

CBP, ICE, and nonprofit officials identified maintaining good communication and relationship-building as important for efficient coordination. They also described experiencing challenges related to coordination and provision of services. For example, they reported experiencing difficulties in (1) planning for fluctuation in the number of noncitizens released over time, (2) having enough capacity to meet the high volumes of noncitizens needing services, and (3) coordinating on timing and logistics in transporting noncitizens. For example, some nonprofits do not operate 24 hours a day, which can create timing and logistics challenges in transporting noncitizens so that they will arrive at the nonprofit during certain times of the day.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO was asked to examine the extent to which DHS had used grants or contracts to provide funds to nonprofits that provide services to noncitizens released from DHS custody. In recent years, the U.S. has experienced a significant number of noncitizens arriving at the southwest border. When releasing these noncitizens into the U.S., DHS components such as CBP and ICE may coordinate with nonprofits that provide services such as food, shelter, and transportation. Additionally, FEMA provides grant funding to some nonprofits that offer these services. This report includes information on the actions DHS has taken to coordinate with nonprofits providing services to the noncitizens it releases into the U.S., and the extent to which DHS has used contracts and grants to provide funds to these nonprofits.

For more information, contact Heather MacLeod at (206) 654-5574 or

Full Report

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Border controlBorder patrolGrant programsHomeland securityImmigrantsImmigrationPorts of entryTransportationNonprofit organizationsCompliance oversight