By Linnaea Honl-Stuenkel and Lauren White
August 8, 2019

On Wednesday, former Defense Secretary James Mattis rejoined the board of General Dynamics, a massive defense contractor whose IT division works with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) on issues related to the “needs of unaccompanied children.” Mattis joins John Kelly, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary and White House Chief of Staff, as former Trump cabinet members who helped implement the zero tolerance policy and now stand to benefit from its continued effects and Trump’s immigration policy.  

Mattis originally joined General Dynamics’ board in 2013, and left when he joined the Trump administration. Since 2000, the company has had contracts worth millions of dollars with ORR. In fiscal year 2017, General Dynamics had $15 billion in government contracts, making it the third largest federal contractor “by dollar amount.” Despite stating that the company had “no role in the family separation policy,” General Dynamics was advertising jobs for ORR around June 2018, such as a data-entry position responsible for monitoring youths’ cases, and another position tracking “new placements and progress of minors in ORR funded care.”

As Defense Secretary, Mattis worked with HHS to help facilitate the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Just before President Trump signed an executive order to end the policy, Mattis indicated that HHS was considering housing migrants on U.S. military bases. The sites would be run by “HHS employees or contractors working with them” according to a DOD memo. Mattis said that “We support DHS and right now this is their lead and we’ll respond if requested.” When asked about children separated from their parents, Mattis said he was “not going to chime in from the outside,” but then acknowledged that figures such as then-secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “maintains close collaboration with us.” Mattis also said “We support whatever they need.” DOD confirmed it would be housing migrant children the day after President Trump signed the executive order ending the family separation policy. 

Beyond housing migrant children, under Mattis’ leadership DOD helped facilitate Trump’s hard-line immigration policy by approving a request to send Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs) to prosecute immigration cases at the border. Mattis approved a DOJ request for JAGs, and agreed to deploy 21 military lawyers to states along the southern border. In June, 2018, a bipartisan group of Senators urged Mattis to reconsider, and 24 Representatives sent a letter asking that he “not use any other DoD resources to detain or criminally prosecute asylum seekers.”

Similarly, after implementing and defending the zero tolerance policy while in government, John Kelly joined the board of Caliburn International in May. Caliburn runs Homestead, the only for-profit detention center for children separated from their families at the southern border. Homestead was recently emptied amid public outcry about the conditions within the center, but remains open as an “emergency shelter in case bed space runs out at other centers.” Caliburn also runs for-profit detention centers in Texas. Before joining the Trump administration, Kelly served on the board of D.C. Capital Partners, the private equity firm that owns Caliburn. 

Last week, CREW sued HHS for records of Kelly’s contacts with HHS before and after he joined Caliburn’s board, which will shed light on whether Kelly has used his position in government to advocate for his financial interests.

While they are not the only members of President Trump’s administration to use the revolving door between government and industry, Mattis’ and Kelly’s new positions are especially troubling because they both stand to profit from the same disastrous policy separating immigrant children from their parents. They show that in this administration, no policy is too controversial to cash in on.