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 — and now that it’s gone, the very 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,”Tom Cartwright, a member of the group says. “We are now turning complete attention to Homestead… the only remaining, non-regulated, 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 on 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 re-opened 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” in order to lure adult, immigrant sponsors whom the government can then catch and deport. New Times also reported last year that, when kids inside the detention center turn 18, Immigration and Customs Enforcement often takes those kids to an adult ICE jail in Broward County. Legal advocates say that practice violates federal law.
Now, the activists that helped shut down Tornillo say they’re pushing lawmakers to take action against Homestead. There are multiple federal bills currently in the works that would either close the facility or heavily regulate it: Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and California Rep. Judy Chu recently re-filed the “Shut Down Child Prisons” Act, which, in its current form, would close the Homestead camp and ensure the children inside — who are constantly followed by guards, not allowed visitors, and are tagged with tracking bracelets — will be placed with sponsors.
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 Facilites” act that would prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services from sharing sponsor and child information with ICE — thus preventing the agency from using kids to catch adult sponsors. The bill would also create a “committee” to oversee child-shelters and transfer money from the ICE budget to be used for legal, medical, and mental-health services for child refugees.
New Times also reported last month that the Homestead camp is a lucrative enterprise for the main contractor at the facility: a Cape Canaveral based company called Comprehensive Health Services. Last year, a private-equity firm called 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 money on government forms.
Activists say it’s unconscionable that a private firm — especially one so closely tied to the White House — now wants to make 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.”