Over the last few weeks, lawyers have reported harrowing stories of alleged neglect, health hazards, and abuse inside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, the largest child-migrant compound run by the Trump administration. Attorneys claimed bathrooms were covered in mildew. Kids say they've been trapped in the compound for illegally lengthy stretches of time, including some as long as 130 days. Some teen girls were reportedly cutting themselves, and lawyers say other kids with special needs — such as those who are blind or speak indigenous languages — were left to fend for themselves inside the facility. Doctors who toured the compound have alleged the conditions are harming children.
In response, the private contractor that runs the camp, Caliburn International, is now sending reporters an 11-item "fact sheet" that claims everything is actually fine and good inside the facility.
Caliburn's newly appointed spokesperson, Tetiana Anderson, sent the list of 11 "facts" to New Times yesterday afternoon. Among other dubious claims, Caliburn alleges the facility is not actually "prison-like" and says the staff is working diligently to reunite kids with their sponsors and loved ones.
The Trump administration said this month it plans to cut recreation, legal aid, and English classes for unaccompanied kids in U.S. custody. But Caliburn — a for-profit company that employs former Homeland Security Director John Kelly — is now attempting to bat down claims that kids inside the facility are being mistreated as public anger swirls.
"Fact: Homestead provides the highest level of care including 24/7 medical care, six hours of daily educational classroom instruction, daily recreation and three meals and two snacks a day," one item alleges, for example. "Fiction: Children at Homestead are kept in undesirable conditions."
New Times asked Anderson why the alleged "facts" sharply clash with first-person stories from inside the shelter, as relayed by immigration lawyers. She did not immediately respond to a message last night. New Times toured the facility in February. This reporter, who has also toured American prisons, would certainly argue the conditions at Homestead are prison-like.
Caliburn is attempting to tamp down numerous claims made in public and in court. Former employees have claimed in lawsuits that they were not properly trained to care for kids. The Miami Herald has reported that it's unclear whether the federal government has a proper hurricane-evacuation plan in place, which is especially concerning since much of the facility is made from temporary tents. And lawyers allege the facility violates huge sections of the Flores agreement, a 1997 Supreme Court settlement that mandates the government keep immigrant children in humane conditions.
Caliburn is sharing the "fact sheet" as the public and press are again illuminating horrid allegations of abuse and neglect inside the migrant-children shelters, which New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives have in recent weeks likened to "concentration camps" or "torture facilities." On Monday, the federal government moved hundreds of children out of a Customs and Border Protection facility that lacked soap, clean clothing, or access to adequate food. The Trump administration had previously argued that it did not need to provide soap or toothbrushes to migrant children in its care. One immigration lawyer who spoke to the New Yorker described seeing filthy children in one Texas facility who were made to sleep directly on concrete floors and forced to care for toddlers detained alongside them.
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Conditions at the Homestead facility do not appear to be quite as dire. But reports from inside the facility have been far from sunny. Last week, New Times published an in-depth series of statements that children inside the compound gave to legal advocates — children reported crying themselves to sleep every night, and many did not understand any of their legal rights.
"Sometimes it’s really hard having to stay here,” a teenage girl from Guatemala who’d been detained for five months told lawyers. “A couple of girls since I’ve been here have been cutting themselves."
For what it's worth, here's the full list of "facts" that Caliburn is now distributing to the press:
1. Fact: Homestead is fully transparent, allowing visits onsite from HHS-approved religious volunteers, congressional delegations, consular officials from their home countries, local government groups and media.
Fiction: Homestead is closed to visitation.
2. Fact: The children at Homestead are unaccompanied minors, currently none of the children at the shelter arrived in the US with their families and none were separated from their parents.
Fiction: Homestead separates children from their families
3. Fact: Children at Homestead have dormitories, dining halls, educational classrooms, indoor and outdoor recreational spaces and fields and on-site medical facilities.
Fiction: Homestead is a “prison-like” facility.
4. Fact: Homestead provides the highest level of care including 24/7 medical care, six hours of daily educational classroom instruction, daily recreation and three meals and two snacks a day.
Fiction: Children at Homestead are kept in undesirable conditions.
5. Fact: Children arriving at Homestead receive a medical examination and vaccinations within twelve hours. For many, this is the first time they’ve ever been examined by a physician.
Fiction: Children do not receive proper care at Homestead.
6. Fact: Homestead employs case managers in order to ensure that children are safely and quickly placed with family or appropriate sponsors.
Fiction: Homestead’s reunification program is ineffective.
7. Fact: Homestead has a medical staff of more than 160 medical professionals and provides access to emergency and hospital facilities.
Fiction: Homestead does not provide proper medical attention for its children.
8. Fact: Homestead Children receive six hours of educational instruction a day including English as a second language, math, and science.
Fiction: Homestead does not provide children with appropriate classroom opportunities.
9. Fact: Unaccompanied minors at Homestead receive three meals a day, are provided new clothing, a hygiene kit, and have a dormitory bunkbed. For many, it’s the first time they’ve ever slept on a mattress.
Fiction: Homestead fails to provide for the basic needs of its children.
10. Fact: Homestead employs 4,500 trained professionals, all committed to the physical and mental welfare of the children.
Fiction: Homestead is understaffed and unprepared.
11. Fact: Homestead has a federally approved hurricane and natural disaster response plan. In fact, Homestead implemented that response plan during Hurricane Matthew and safely evacuated all children and staff from the shelter.
Fiction: Homestead does not have a hurricane evacuation plan.