Miami Gardens Center for Migrant Kids Was Accused of Letting Infant Suffocate to Death

Miami Gardens Center for Migrant Kids Was Accused of Letting Infant Suffocate to Death
Molly Minta
Update 6/23: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has confirmed that His House is holding infant children taken from their parents by the federal government, the Miami Herald reports.

His House Children's Home, a Miami Gardens facility that has housed young migrant children for the federal government, was accused in Broward County court of letting a small child fatally suffocate underneath a blanket. The boy was not an immigrant but a young minor brought to the facility in 2007 after being taken from his parents in Broward by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

The 2009 case, which was settled three years later, is just one of several lawsuits against His House, including a 2008 complaint for allegedly failing to pay an employee minimum wage, which was also settled out of court, and a 2013 lawsuit by the South Broward Hospital District over $12,684 in unpaid fees, which was dropped in 2015.

As a whole, the legal issues paint a troubled portrait of the facility, which houses children on behalf of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement — the agency that found itself in the middle of a national firestorm this week as President Trump ordered thousands of migrant children separated from their parents.

Neither His House nor the federal government will comment on whether any of those young kids ripped away from their parents at the border ended up in Miami Gardens. But during a news conference outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children — a larger child-migrant detention center that New Times confirmed this week was quietly holding more than 1,000 kids — Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she'd also learned of two facilities in Cutler Bay and Miami Gardens where particularly young migrant children were being housed. His House is believed to be one of those two facilities.

Details of the 2007 death at His House are slim because court documents from the wrongful-death case weren't available this week. But the case also sparked an insurance dispute in federal court, where Judge Ursula Ungaro laid out the "undisputed" facts of the case: In February 2007, the Broward County Department of Children and Families removed an infant from a woman's home and placed the child in the care of one of His House's foster mothers. The foster mom fed the child around midnight February 15, 2007, and put him to bed around 12:30 a.m. — but by 5 a.m, the baby had died.

His House "immediately" notified police, Ungaro wrote. The Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office later ruled the child had died by suffocation underneath a blanket.

In May, the Miami Herald reported the center was under a state-level investigation for alleged child abuse, a claim the facility's executive director denied to the Herald. And as New Times reported yesterday, the federal government itself issued a scathing audit in December 2017 stating that, because of inadequate record-keeping, the Office of Refugee Resettlement could not guarantee that 652 children had been processed correctly or that proper background checks had been conducted on prospective guardians.

The government said it audited the facility after one of its employees was convicted of extortion. A New Times reporter visited the site this past Wednesday. His House's development director, David Castrillon, declined to allow a reporter to tour the property and directed all migrant-related questions to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"Under federal regulations, we are not allowed to discuss this issue," Castrillon said.

An HHS spokesperson, Kenneth Wolfe, declined to comment, stating that for the "safety and security of children in the unaccompanied alien children program shelters, we do not identify specific locations of permanent facilities."

His House representatives did not respond to follow-up questions yesterday from New Times related to the past lawsuits.

The legal trouble and abuse allegations once again call into question the quality of care that migrant children receive once apprehended by immigration officials. Earlier this week, Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen claimed children in government care are "well taken care of," and Trump surrogates in the media have been lambasted for comparing cage-filled migrant prisons to "summer camp."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.