Miami-Dade County

Up to 1,000 children held by immigration authorities now living in Homestead compound

The Trump administration has reopened a 1,000-bed Homestead facility that once housed minors who entered the country illegally and alone, reviving a compound at a time when the White House is under fire for a new policy that separates children from parents detained by immigration authorities.

It wasn't clear Monday what role the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children is playing in the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration: housing children who entered the country without parents, or housing them after authorities took them from their parents after the family entered the United States illegally, or a mix of both.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the shelter, declined to clarify in an email interview on Monday, saying both categories of children are categorized as "unaccompanied alien children."

"Homestead is an active temporary unaccompanied alien children program facility," the spokesman, Kenneth Wolfe, said in an email.

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Unaccompanied undocumented children at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children play soccer on Monday, June 18, 2018. Ellis Rua erua@miamiherald.com

On Monday, dozens of boys were playing soccer on a field behind the obscured fences that surround the federal compound about 35 miles southwest of Miami. Members of the media were not allowed inside, and a private security guard tried to block media from filming the scene from a public road outside the facility, accusing the reporters and photographers of trespassing.

The facility closed last year amid a sharp decline in illegal border crossings under Trump, easing the flow of unaccompanied minors needing housing. Washington reopened the facility earlier this year without public notice, and the new population of minors did not receive media attention until Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democratic member of Congress from Broward, disclosed it during an event Monday.

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The entrance for the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children on Monday, June 18, 2018. Ellis Rua Erua@miamiherald.com

Michael Liquerman, a spokesman for Wasserman Schultz, said the office has only been told the Homestead facility has "1,000 kids there" but didn't know the status of the minors. Another congressional source said the Trump administration has said the facility has a capacity of 1,000 beds, suggesting the population might be lower.

On Monday evening, U.S. Sen Bill Nelson, D-Florida, announced he would tour the facility on Tuesday.

The Homestead facility was toured by the media in 2016, when the Obama administration was under scrutiny for what was widely described as a crisis of children entering the United States illegally from troubled home countries in Central America. A former federal Jobs Corps center, it has dormitory beds, recreational facilities and classrooms.

Wolfe, the Health and Human Services spokesman, said the Homestead compound reopened several months ago.

Comprehensive Health Services, a Cape Canaveral contractor, is running the facility, according to federal procurement documents online. One posting from February showed a $30 million contract for 500 beds in Homestead. It was amended May 4 to make it 1,000 beds.

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Soccer ball that was kicked over the fence by unaccompanied undocumented children at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children on Monday, June 18, 2018. Ellis Rua erua@miamiherald.com

The Trump policy on separating children from parents has drawn outrage from Democrats, human-rights groups and a growing number of Republicans.

On Monday, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Republican from Miami, condemned the practice. "There's a way to enforce the law and be compassionate," he said. "It's a cold way of approaching law enforcement."

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