Miami-Dade County

It’s time to stand up for the children being detained at Homestead center | Opinion

Protesters and activists stand on step ladders to see over fencing that surrounds the Homestead Detention Center in hopes that the thousands of children detained in the facility will see their signs of encouragement on June 28, 2019.
Protesters and activists stand on step ladders to see over fencing that surrounds the Homestead Detention Center in hopes that the thousands of children detained in the facility will see their signs of encouragement on June 28, 2019. jking@miamiherald.com

As I watched the evening news recently, my heart cried when I heard a young mother tell Congress that her baby died shortly after she was returned to her because of the mistreatment suffered while being detained and separated from her mom. I wasn’t the only one who was moved by the mother’s testimony; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York openly shed tears.

I’d said before that when babies are not nurtured with love and affection, they can get sick and/or die. Babies and children in these migrant camps are treated less than animals. There are programs where the public can go into animal shelters and pet the animals. Children, who need warm touches of compassion and love to survive, are not afforded the same act of kindness as the animals.

Something is very wrong here, America. And we need to do something to make it right.

For several months now, I have been talking to my friend Carmen Morris about what we can do to help immigrant children at the Homestead facility. In one of our conversations, Carmen told me about a Fourth of July protest that would take place at the facility to urge the authorities to stop playing with the precious lives of children.

One of the protest organizers was Charlie Fomby, 38, of Pompano Beach.She has been holding daily vigils at the Homestead detention center for more than four months.

“We are now on day 151,” Fomby said Thursday. “We come to the camp because we want to let the children know that somebody cares for them. When they come out of their tents, the first place they look is to see if we are there. As long as they are in the camp, we will be on the other side.

“I believe that more and more people are starting to realize that we are going to have to take action on behalf of these children. We can’t protect them in these environments. They are not safe places, no matter what.”

Fomby is right. Recently there have been allegations of child molestation and other abuses where children were forced to sleep on cold, hard concrete floors, simply because they complained about foul-tasting food and water.

I am thankful for people like Fomby, who on the Fourth of July stepped away from the comforts of their homes and family gatherings to visit the migrant camp in Homestead, where thousands of children are being held.

And for people like Trish Barnett, 22, who came down from Ohio.

“I work with children from all over the world,” she said in a phone interview. “A lot of them are immigrants. So I know the struggles their families have and the bravery it took for them to come to this country.”

Barnett said she heard about the Homestead migrant camp and the children being held there while watching the Democratic debates.

“I connected with the organizers of the protest through Instagram and Facebook.… I felt that protesting the [conditions and treatment] of these children was the most patriotic thing I could do on the Fourth of July,” she said.

For Greer Wallace, a mother of two young adult children, the children being held at Homestead brought back memories of the Mariel Boatlift. She said she was “outraged” by the situation at Homestead.

“When I worked for the federal government during the Mariel Boatlift, the government was very good about placing children with their family members in this country. We seemed to understand back then that we were dealing with children and we understood their needs,” Wallace said.

“Now, there seems to be a lack of commitment by our government concerning these children. One of the contributing factors is that we have a private contractor who is being paid to keep these facilities open. They don’t care about getting these children together with their families. The longer they keep them, the more money they get.”

It doesn’t help either that our President Trump tweets out statements like this: “... If illegal immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detention centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved…”

You could learn something, Mr. President, from Maria Plata, 26, who lives in the migrant community at Immokalee. It took her two hours to get to the protest. “But it was very important for me to be there, “ she said. “I am a first- generation American citizen. What’s going on at Homestead is disheartening. It could have been my parents, or anyone else from my community.”

Plata said she brought her boyfriend and two of her sisters with her to the protest. “When we look back, I want to be sure that I was on the right side of history by taking a stand for these children. We have to be a voice for those who are voiceless.”

Katy Smith, 38, is from Australia, but now lives in West Palm Beach. She said the protest made her reflect on how people seeking asylum in her country are treated. There, immigrants are sent to two islands — Manus and Naurus, “...and no one one can bare witness to what the immigrants are experiencing. Because of this knowledge, I wanted to partake in this demonstration.”

Smith said during the protest she saw “... a number of kids, who had just finished playing some games. Because of the holiday, the guards decided to let them play in the yard. These were the younger children about 11-14. Then, I saw them being led back inside in single and double lines. It was gut-wrenching. These are children and they are being treated like criminals.”

She said being there was the least she could do. “There was a small moment of connection when a child spotted us and would give us a wave. In America, we are letting the children know that we care for them, and are doing what we can to help. It’s important for the children to know that, in spite of what the guards might tell them.”

Letting children outside for a little playing time is nothing less than propaganda, said Karen Campbell, whose husband, Dr. Mike Campbell, is the senior pastor at Old Cutler Presbytrian Church in Palmetto Bay.

“Just because they are outside playing basketball, doesn’t mean that they weren’t unjustly separated from their parents,” she said. “What about the little ones? There are babies, toddlers, detained all over the country. Are they going to build playgrounds so they can show the media and protesters how happy the little ones are, playing in the sun, before they put them back in the cages like zoo animals?”

Danny Glover to highlight conference

Panorama of Truth (POT), a spiritual conference that brings together thousands of people from around the country, will be held Wednesday through Sunday (July 17-21) at the Universal Truth Center for Better Living, 21010 NW 37th Ave. in Miami Gardens.

Keynote speakers will be actor and activist Danny Glover and Susan L. Taylor of Essence magazine.

Glover, who testified on June 19 before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, stated the case for slavery reparations for African Americans. The subcommittee debated H.R. 40, a bill that has proposed a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans.

Glover has been a commanding opresence on screen, stage and telvision for more than 30 years. For his humanitarian work, he was awarded the 2011 “Pioneer Award” from the National Civil Rights Museum. He also has served as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Program from 1998-2004, where he focused on issues of poverty, disease and economic development in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. He currently serves as ambassador for the United Nations International Decade For People of African Descent.

The conference is hosted by the Universal Foundation for Better Living (UFBL), a 45-year-old organization founded by the late Rev. Dr. Johnnie Colemon, one of the first African Americans to be ordained a Unity minister.

For information about the conference, call 305-624-4991.

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