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Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | September 15, 2023

Cherokee Nation makes millions off illegal immigration

Ray Carter

Officials with the Cherokee Nation’s tribal government often tout the importance of sovereignty, a term that in tribal debates largely boils down to control of land lying within historic reservation lines.

One Cherokee government website bluntly declares, “The Supreme Court’s McGirt v. Oklahoma decision recognized what Indian Country has known all along: that our land is our land.”

But when it comes to the United States’ sovereignty in terms of border control, a recent report suggests Cherokee Nation officials don’t see something that needs defending, but instead see dollar signs.

A recent report and government records show the Cherokee Nation has made millions of dollars off processing individuals who enter the U.S. illegally—and may have done so despite questions being raised about the quality of Cherokee Nation services.

The issue has gained attention due in part to a report by Project Veritas, which describes itself as a nonprofit journalism news organization conducting undercover reporting. The organization is known for hidden-camera journalism.

In a recent report, Project Veritas released hidden-camera footage of Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, a former Biden transition team member who is now a principal of Deep Water Associates.

In the video, Lorenzen-Strait brags of his work on behalf of Cherokee Federal, an arm of the Cherokee Nation.

At one point, when Lorenzen-Strait is asked if Cherokee Federal is involved in processing migrants, he states that his firm is responsible for Cherokee Federal receiving the contract.

“Cherokee Nation is not this benevolent humanitarian actor,” Lorenzen-Strait states. “They make most of their money with alcohol and gambling.”

He later states, “I helped them move into the migration or refugee space this year.”

At one point, Lorenzen-Strait refers to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contract(s) as involving $2 billion total.

Public records bolster Lorenzen-Strait’s account.

According to USAspending, the official open data source of federal spending information, the Cherokee Nation received one contract with a total value of more than $706 million for handling migrant processing during a period of only six months—from April 27, 2021 to Nov. 19, 2021.

The website for Cherokee Federal declares, “All Cherokee Federal businesses are wholly owned by the Cherokee Nation, the largest Native American tribe in the U.S. with more than 400,000 tribal citizens.”

Cherokee Federal claims it has 60 “federal clients,” is involved in 20 countries, has more than 3,600 employees, and operates regional offices in Arlington, Va.; Atlanta, Ga.; Denver, Co.; Huntsville, Al.; San Antonio, Texas, and Tulsa.

Among the “program support” offered by Cherokee Federal are “child & refugee welfare” services, as well as “immigration support services.”

“We work closely with government agencies, state leaders, and community-based organizations to ensure the effective and efficient processing of asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees,” the Cherokee Federal website states.

As of publication, the Cherokee Nation had not responded to a request for comment regarding the tribe’s relationship to Lorenzen-Strait or tribal leaders’ decision to pursue migrant processing as a revenue source.

The Cherokee Federal contract appears to have involved processing unaccompanied minor migrants, those younger than age 18, who entered the country illegally.

The handling of underage illegal immigrants has long been a source of contention and debate.

A fact sheet released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during the Trump administration warned, “Under our current immigration loopholes, if anyone under the age of 18 illegally enters the United States they will be placed into HHS custody and released into the interior of the United States, rather than returned home to their country of origin. This is open borders.”

The fact sheet noted a news report had claimed the agency lost track of 1,475 unaccompanied illegal migrant children. HHS officials stated that was because the agency could not reach the sponsors who accepted those children.

“The reason many sponsors cannot be reached is because they themselves are illegal aliens and do not want to be reached by federal authorities,” the HHS fact sheet stated. “This is the core problem: HHS has been put in the position of releasing illegal aliens to the individuals who helped arrange for them to be smuggled into the country, which makes the immediate crisis worse and creates a perverse incentive for even more smuggling.”

Last October, citing internal federal figures, CBS news reported that nearly 130,000 migrant children entered the U.S. government’s shelter system in 2022, a record number.

The Project Veritas report prompted leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives to contact the director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, demanding additional information on how the agency evaluates contracts.

U.S. Rep. Mark Green, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security; U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Accountability; and U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, chairman of the Subcommittee on Border Security and Enforcement, specifically noted Lorenzen-Strait’s comments about Cherokee Federal in their letter.

The lawmakers noted that in the Project Veritas video Lorenzen-Strait “discussed ‘brokering’ a deal that won Cherokee Federal, a team of tribally owned federal contracting companies, a nearly $2 billion contract with the federal government to provide services to unaccompanied alien children. In the video, Mr. Lorenzen-Strait admits that Cherokee Federal is not equipped to handle the contract.”

A recent Bloomberg Government report ranked the Cherokee Nation among the 200 contractors receiving the greatest amount of federal government dollars in 2022. According to the report, Cherokee Nation received more than $1.1 billion in federal contracts in 2022, ranking 83rd among all contractors. In 2021, Cherokee Nation ranked 53rd overall.

According to the Bloomberg report, the Cherokee Nation received more in federal contract funding than entities such as Siemens AG, International Business Machines Corp., Ford Motor Company, Lumen Technologies Inc., Ernst & Young LLP, and Johnson Controls International PLC.

In a press release issued following the Bloomberg report, Steven Bilby, president of Cherokee Federal, said, “We take great pride in being consistently acknowledged as one of the top federal contractors globally. We continue to stay laser-focused on solving complex challenges and delivering high-impact solutions for our government partners.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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