The stories coming out of the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children are difficult to hear. The 3,200-bed facility — the nation's only for-profit child detention center — is not licensed or overseen by state child-welfare workers, and at least two employees claim they weren't properly trained. Kids have been held there for as long as eight months even though a federal agreement calls for their release after 20 days. The children have described crying themselves to sleep, feeling like prisoners, and worrying they might never get out.
Meanwhile, Homestead officials Friday told an Amnesty International delegation that the center is holding more children than it can safely accommodate during a hurricane. Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell had been asking for months to view the facility's hurricane evacuation plan. The Office of Refugee Resettlement eventually responded that it has a plan — but refused to let her see it.
If the headlines make you want to do something to help, it can be difficult to know how to do so. The facility does not accept donations or volunteers. After thousands of students wrote letters to the children, the staff refused to accept the notes. When Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho offered his district's help in teaching the kids, he received no response.
Still, there are a few things you can do right now to get involved. Here are three ways to help the children at the facility.
1. Donate to organizations that work with — and advocate for — the children. Americans for Immigrant Justice, a Miami-based nonprofit law firm, provides legal services at Homestead. The organization teaches children their rights, evaluates their cases, and tries to find lawyers for those who are released. But it could most use financial help in representing those who age out of the facility. On their 18th birthdays, teenagers at the center are handcuffed and taken to an adult detention center.
"We could use support to help get those kids out of adult detention," says Michelle Ortiz, deputy director of Americans for Immigrant Justice. Other local groups that could use your support include the Florida Immigrant Coalition, which advocates for the fair treatment of immigrants, and the American Friends Service Committee, which works with the children after they leave the shelter.
2. Contact your representatives, and advocate for legislation to close the facility. Let your elected officials know how you feel about the detention of children in Homestead. Find out how to contact your representatives here. You can also support legislation to close the camp. The Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act would bar the Department of Health and Human Services from operating unlicensed temporary emergency shelters for migrant children. The Families Not Facilities Act would prohibit Immigrations and Customs Enforcement from using information about a migrant child's sponsor in deportation proceedings.
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3. Join on-the-ground efforts. For months, a group of activists has had a daily presence in Homestead, where they wave to the children and watch the comings and goings at the facility. Their sighting of former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly led to the revelation he had joined the board of Caliburn International, the for-profit company that runs the camp.
"To support us, first and foremost, we need people on the ground," says Alessandra Mondolfi, who helps lead the initiative. Learn more and get involved by joining the activists' Facebook group, Witness: Tornillo. Target: Homestead.
If you can't make it to Homestead, you can still support the group through donations. Money raised will go toward water bottles, snacks, bug spray, ice, and other items needed by those demonstrating outside the facility. And no matter where you are, you can also start your own protest. "There's more people protesting Homestead outside of Florida than there are in Florida," Mondolfi says.