Trump Administration Cancels Legal Aid, Recreation, English Classes for Homestead Shelter Kids

Activity time at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children.
Activity time at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Legal advocates reported Friday that thousands of refugee kids stuck at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children regularly complain about being depressed, lonely, miserable, and mistreated in the American refugee shelter system.

In response, the Trump administration has callously decided to make those kids' lives even bleaker. The federal government today announced it's canceling the kids' recreation time, English classes, and even access to legal aid. Immigrant advocates warn the decision likely violates multiple federal laws. Other critics have noted that even American prisoners are afforded recreational and educational time. (The Trump administration has repeatedly stated it intends to make the U.S. immigration system crueler to deter refugees from trying to enter the country.)

Spokespeople for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement confirmed to multiple news outlets today that the administration claims it cannot afford to care for an increasing number of refugee children and now plans to cut back on any services not deemed "life sustaining."

In a media release, HHS claimed its current funding levels cannot sustain the "dramatic increases in the number of large-scale groups of family units and unaccompanied alien children" reported at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Additional resources are urgently required to meet the humanitarian needs created by this influx — to both sustain critical child welfare and release operations and increase capacity," spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer said.
Additionally, HHS spokesman Mark Weber told the Washington Post that his department plans to discontinue any services "not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation."

HHS did not immediately return additional messages from New Times asking how the decision will affect the Homestead shelter. But the proposed cuts seem likely to dramatically alter life at the compound. A New Times reporter toured the facility in February — children detained there spend hours each day taking English courses and playing soccer to unwind. It's unclear how kids inside the camp will now pass the time.

Legal services were already fairly paltry. Families have complained that the government takes far too long to release children to willing sponsors. The facility holds children ages 11 to 17; if kids aren't released by the time they become adults, they are handcuffed on their 18th birthday and sent to adult Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.

This past Friday, lawyers filed complaints alleging children are being subjected to illegally long stays at the facility. The Flores Agreement — a U.S. Supreme Court settlement — stipulates that kids can be held in immigration custody no longer than 20 days before they are released to the public. (The agreement also says children must be held in open facilities where they are allowed to enter and exit, but they are not allowed to exit the Homestead camp.) Legal advocates also alleged widespread acts of mistreatment at the facility — kids reported being terrified that if they broke any facility rules, they would be kept at the compound for additional weeks as punishment.
Moreover, children reported some girls were cutting themselves from the stress of being detained there. Others said they were forced to stay at the camp for more than 130 days despite having American family members willing to sponsor and care for them. Immigrant-rights groups say the camp itself is not necessary, but members of the federal government claim the kids must be kept there to protect them from human traffickers.

The camp is operated by the for-profit contractor Caliburn International. This year, former White House Chief of Staff and Homeland Security Director John Kelly joined the company's board, raising questions about whether he's now profiting from immigration policies he helped draft.
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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.