Earlier this year, the federal government announced it was closing a massive camp full of immigrant kids in Tornillo, Texas. Immigrant-rights activists say the camp was a humanitarian nightmare — most of the kids had been sent there after U.S. immigration officials ripped them from their parents in contravention of international law.
The federal government would never have closed the Tornillo camp without pressure from activists and lawmakers. And now that it's gone, the same people plan to focus full-time on the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Miami-Dade County.
"The effort of our coalition, the Close Tornillo Down coalition, was successful in working with many people and legislators," says Tom Cartwright, a member of the group. "We are now turning complete attention to Homestead... the only remaining nonregulated, large-scale, refugee child prison in the country. We’re going to bring the same forces together — in terms of political, legislative, activist, and faith-based organizations — to completely close down Homestead detention camp."
The Miami Herald first reported the activists' plans on Friday after reporter Monique Madan toured the Homestead facility.
New Times was the first outlet to report that the Trump administration had quietly reopened the building and placed as many as 1,300 kids there. Now, Tornillo is closing — and the federal government reportedly plans to add 1,000 more children to Miami's detention center. While there are more than 100 smaller facilities that currently hold unaccompanied kids, Miami's encampment is now the largest federal facility of its kind in the nation.
As such, it's now attracting major scrutiny. And for good reason: For one, the facility is not licensed and is therefore not subject to state-level or other forms of basic oversight. Moreover, civil rights activists allege that the Trump administration is using the kids inside as "bait" to lure adult immigrant sponsors the government can then catch and deport. New Times also reported last year that Immigration and Customs Enforcement often takes kids in the detention center who turn 18 to an adult ICE jail in Broward County. Legal advocates say that practice violates federal law.
Now, the activists who helped shut down Tornillo say they're pushing lawmakers to take action against Homestead. There are multiple federal bills in the works that would either close the facility or heavily regulate it. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and California Rep. Judy Chu, for example, recently refiled the "Shut Down Child Prisons" Act, which would close the Homestead camp and ensure the children inside — who
Furthermore, a team of Democratic senators — Kamala Harris, Ron Wyden, Bernie Sanders, Dianne Feinstein, Richard Blumenthal, and Kirsten Gillibrand — are working on a bill titled the "Families, Not
New Times also reported last month that the Homestead camp is a lucrative enterprise for the facility's main contractor: a Cape Canaveral-based company called Comprehensive Health Services. Last year, a private-equity firm named D.C. Capital Partners bought Comprehensive Health and folded it into a new corporation called "Caliburn International." D.C. Capital Partners now wants to take Caliburn public and sell $100 million in Class A stock on Wall Street.
Importantly, D.C. Capital Partners used to employ White House chief of staff John Kelly, who was getting paid by a D.C. Capital subsidiary while he worked in the Trump administration. He only quit after the Intercept reported on his side job. Kelly had conveniently failed to disclose that income on government forms.
Activists say it's unconscionable that a private firm — especially one so closely tied to the White House — now wants to reap a stock-market windfall on the backs of imprisoned children.
"A significant concern is that Homestead is operated by a for-profit company closely tied to the defense department and owned by a private equity firm," Cartwright said. "Their motivation will clearly be to maximize their profits by filling every bed with kids and having kids stay the maximum time in captivity."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.