Recess time, education and legal services will be restored at Homestead detention center, agency says

Democratic presidential candidates visit Homestead Detention Center

Democratic candidates Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and John Hickenlooper visit the Homestead Detention Center on June 28, 2019.
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Democratic candidates Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and John Hickenlooper visit the Homestead Detention Center on June 28, 2019.

The United States government can resume paying for educational, legal, and recreational services at facilities like the Homestead detention center, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Congress passed — and President Donald Trump has indicated he will sign — a $2.88 billion emergency supplemental appropriations legislation this week.

This comes about three weeks after the Trump administration said it would dramatically cut aid to detention centers that house migrant children who arrive in the United States unaccompanied by their biological parents. Homestead is the largest of those facilities.

“HHS is pleased that, thanks to the President’s leadership and bipartisan action by Congress, our career civil servants and grantees can now resume providing a full set of recreational, educational, and legal services to the children in our care, as well as all refugee support services,” HHS said in a statement on Friday. “The President has indicated that he would sign the supplemental funding bill, so our Office of Refugee Resettlement has begun the process of notifying grantees that they can resume the comprehensive provision of these important services for the children in our care.”

The budget cut that was announced in early June meant detainees would no longer get recess time or access to any sort of education. Their access to attorneys was also slashed. The agency said in a statement at the time that changes were a direct result of the “humanitarian crisis at the border brought on by a broken immigration system.”

This crisis put financial strain on the agency’s Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program — a strain that will leave its budget empty by the end of the month, the statement added.

Officially, children as young as 13 are detained at the center — although a recent court filing suggested kids as young as 8 were held there. They are taught by non-certified instructors working under the supervision of certified teachers, according to federal officials. Those teachers are staffed by the shelter’s private operator, Caliburn.

Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade schools — who for years has offered to take the lead in teaching the detained children but has been denied — called the move by Congress a “stop-gap measure.”

“Any bipartisan agreement resulting in the softening of the horrific conditions that these children are facing is terrific news,” he said. “With that said, there needs to be a longtime solution to ensure that the painful conditions that these children have endured does not repeat itself.”

Currently, the Office of Refugee Resettlement funds the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based nonprofit that hires legal service providers across the country to represent unaccompanied youth inside detention centers.

In Florida, the Vera Institute contracts with Americans for Immigrant Justice.

“We are relieved to hear that funding for legal services will resume for detained immigrant children,” said Michelle Ortiz, deputy director of Americans for Immigrant Justice.We will continue to fight for our vulnerable clients to ensure they are safe from harm. ”

Monique O. Madan covers immigration and enterprise; she previously covered breaking news and local government. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and The Dallas Morning News. She is currently a Reveal Fellow at the Center for Investigative Reporting. She graduated from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston. A note to tipsters: If you want to send Monique confidential information, her email and mailbox are open. The address is 3511 NW 91st Ave, Doral, FL 33172. You can also direct message her on social media and she’ll provide encrypted Signal details.