About 50 unaccompanied minors escaping danger and poverty in Central America arrived at a temporary shelter in Homestead on Tuesday, the first group to use the facilities since they were converted from the former Homestead Job Corps site to an 800-bed shelter for immigrant children under federal care.
The children, ages 13 to 17, were taken to the shelter near the Homestead Air Reserve Base at Homestead’s Job Corps site. Most of the teens are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and will be under the care of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
The wave of minors crossing the border without family was the first group of many expected to arrive at the site as they continue to flee Central America. The federal government operates about 100 permanent shelters across the country, but the Homestead site is the only temporary shelter currently active and was opened to handle the overflow of youths awaiting an immigration hearing.
“When kids are apprehended by border patrol, by law, Homeland Security has to turn over custody of all unaccompanied children within 72 hours to the Department of Health and Human Services,” said Stephanie Acker Housman, spokeswoman for the agency. “By law they are entitled to an immigration hearing while we work to identify a sponsor, which is usually a parent or close relative.”
The complex includes the former Job Corps building, which can sleep 800 children, plus newly erected tents that house bathroom, laundry and other facilities. At the shelter, they are provided with meals, medical care and schooling. Counselors work with children who may have experienced mental, physical or sexual abuse as well as others who have escaped gang threats and extreme poverty.
The federal agency is responsible for providing around-the-clock care and safety of the unaccompanied immigrant children while they are in the country. Children spend 32 days on average at the shelters while the government looks for a sponsor and and the youths wait for immigration proceedings.
The children do not integrate into the local community.
Over the last few weeks, dozens of local nonprofit organizations have asked to volunteer at the shelter or donate goods.
“I can’t tell you how grateful we are for the community support,” Housman said. “Unfortunately we are not able to accommodate volunteers due to strict screenings and background checks, but there are other local organizations that work with unaccompanied minors that they can help.”
Housman said inquiries about donations or volunteers should be directed to the regional office of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families at 404-562-2800.
Last year, about 55 percent of children who crossed the border had parents living in the U.S. and went to live with them; 35 percent went to live with close family members; and the remaining kids went to live with a distant relative or family friends, Housman said.
In August 2015, federal officials suspended classes at Homestead Job Corps after four students were arrested and charged with the machete murder of a classmate. Most Job Corps participants from the Miami-Dade area are enrolled in other Job Corps centers in Florida.