On Aug. 6, I and other representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) toured the Temporary Emergency Influx Shelter in Homestead, where undocumented migrant children had been detained.
We hoped to bring some accountability to a place that has avoided public oversight. But, according to staff members at the shelter, three nights before our arrival, between 1 and 7 a.m., the last of the children detained there – approximately 175 of them – were removed from the facility and sent elsewhere. They didn’t say where and gave no indication what would happen next to the kids.
The trauma our government subjects these children to is outrageous. Some children were separated from families at the border; others endured traumatic journeys to the U.S. only to be swept into detention with no explanation of what is happening to them. And then, the government abruptly transferred them to other locations. Did senior Trump administration officials consider, or even care, how moving children this way would affect them?
The pre-dawn transfer of children out of Homestead is only the most recent indefensible incident at the facility. Homestead has drawn national attention for being a privately operated prison for migrant children, for its enormous size, its lack of oversight, and for keeping kids in inadequate conditions. At one point, it held some 2,700 kids. Experts in child welfare agree that no child should be housed in a facility of that size – a place that is more like a prison than a home.
A for-profit prison for migrant children in Miami-Dade County is a human rights catastrophe and a moral abomination.
“Emergency influx shelters” have operated with little accountability to the public, to Congress or to the law. Instead of operating according to state licensing standards, the facilities are administered according to contract terms not disclosed to the public.
In some instances, those standards are clearly inadequate. On our tour we were told that of 130 teachers at Homestead, only 8-10 were certified. When asked why the company does not require teacher certification, we were told that they comply with ORR contract terms regarding the qualifications for teachers. But what are those terms, and why are they so low? The public has not been told. In fact, we don’t know the contract standards for any of the basic care and treatment of children the shelter is responsible for.
Homestead has cost taxpayers $33 million in the weeks since it has stopped sheltering children. It is now prepared to receive children at any time and likely will house children again starting this fall.
We must fight against the re-opening and new construction of any mass detention centers for children, which will psychologically harm them. Floridians should make it clear that they oppose them. Local elected officials, especially in Miami-Dade County, must champion that fight.
Cruelty is not an immigration policy.
The continued existence of the Homestead detention facility and others like it brings shame to our state and our nation. Our government must do better. Our humanity demands it.