Earlier this year, an estimated 3,000 kids sat inside the Homestead child-migrant compound waiting to be reunited with sponsors and family members around the country. But now, the facility is rapidly shedding children. This is, possibly, because the facility can only hold 1,200 kids safely during a low-level hurricane, and hurricane season began June 1.
But it's also potentially because Homestead is increasingly becoming a target for protesters — last month, Democratic presidential candidates came to Miami to hold a debate, and activists persuaded a majority of them to visit the compound. And so, as Homestead has become a national news item, the government has rapidly sped up its efforts to shepherd kids out of the compound. With rumors swirling that the place may close, here's a recap of people who helped bring attention to the detention center:
Some teenagers have languished for months behind the tall chain-link fences of the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, the nation's only for-profit detention center for migrant kids. But in a report released Wednesday, Amnesty International says children should be detained only as a last resort, for the shortest period possible, and in the least restrictive setting possible. By holding the 13-to-17-year-olds in "prolonged and indefinite detention," the organization says, the United States is violating its human-rights obligations.
With the report's release, Amnesty International is calling for the closure of the 3,200-bed facility run by Comprehensive Health Services, a subsidiary of Caliburn International. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should shutter the camp as soon as possible; transfer the children to smaller, licensed shelters that meet human-rights standards; and end its practice of using temporary, unlicensed shelters for extended lengths of time, the group says.
"This is an industrial processing line for children who are waiting to be reunified with their parents, with their families, and who are seeking safety here," Amnesty International researcher Denise Bell tells New Times. "It truly is a warehouse, and it's not child-centric care."
A whole lot of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are visiting the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children this week. Not all of them, however, appear to have concrete plans as to what to actually do about the kids inside the shelter. But during a visit today, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a straightforward demand: Shut the place down.
"I come from a witnessing tradition to join others who witness," she said today using a megaphone. "When we see something that is wrong, we are called on not to stand by, not to be quiet, not to look the other way, but to come and to witness and to speak out. What is happening in Homestead to children is happening as a direct result of activities of the United States government. It is wrong. It is a stain on our country. And we must speak out. We speak out as a people. We speak out as moral citizens, not just of the United States, but of the world. We will stay here at Homestead until the facility releases these children and closes down."
Reached by phone, Tomas Kennedy of the Florida Immigrant Coalition said his organization is deeply worried about what might happen to the remaining 400 kids who could age into deportation proceedings. Kennedy said his organization has already been holding rallies, news conferences, and protests outside the compound and has been coordinating with Mucarsel-Powell's office to try to raise awareness about what's happening at the center. Now, he says, the coalition of organizations he works with wants to make sure these remaining 400 children don't wind up in adult ICE detention facilities.
"We’re super concerned right now," he says. "The facility is clearly winding down at least the number of children who are detained, likely because it's hurricane season and they are not prepared to take that many kids as it is. But we're concerned what’s gonna happen with these kids, where they’re gonna end up, and why they haven’t been reunited with sponsors. These are 17-year-olds, and they're at risk of being transferred to adult detention."
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The nation's largest facility for unaccompanied immigrant children is holding more kids than it can safely accommodate during a low-category hurricane. That's what Homestead officials told a delegation from Amnesty International during a tour of the facility earlier today.
More than 1,700 kids are being held at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children. But facility officials believe they can safely house house only 1,200 in the event of a tropical storm or low-level hurricane, according to Amnesty International USA executive director Margaret Huang. In the event of a high-category storm, officials told Huang, the detention center would have to be evacuated.
Officials did not offer details about how they came up with the 1,200 limit, nor did they provide Huang with additional information regarding hurricane preparations or evacuation procedures.
According to figures given to the Amnesty International delegation, as many as 2,200 children were being housed in the detention center last week. Recent reports indicate the facility has had far more than 1,200 children in its care since hurricane season began June 1.
"I was extremely troubled by their response," Huang says. "We continue to have significant concerns about the facility." Amnesty International plans to follow up on the shelter's hurricane plans in the next week.
Via the Miami Herald:
For some lawmakers and activists, “just because they are fed endless pizza and ice cream doesn’t mean they are free,” said Joshua Rubin, a New York software developer turned detention-camp watchdog.
“A golden cage is still a cage,” he said.
Rubin, 67, has been one of the loudest voices outside the Tornillo camp. After reading the news from home, the entrepreneur packed up, drove thousands of miles, slept in an RV for months and devoted himself to documenting what he saw from outside the camp. Rubin quickly climbed into the national spotlight after launching a Facebook page — Witness: Tornillo — with the goal of shutting down the Texas camp.
“It happened, and now our next target is Homestead,” Rubin told the Miami Herald Thursday.
Just minutes before that, Rubin was part of a press conference outside the Capitol in Washington where U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-California, along with Merkley, the Oregon Democratic senator, reintroduced the Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act, which he originally submitted in December to shut down Tornillo.