As threat of ICE raids loom, hundreds march by Homestead shelter to call for reform

Activists gather outside of Homestead shelter for migrant children on Good Friday

Protesters gather outside of the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children on Good Friday in Homestead, Florida, on April 19, 2019.
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Protesters gather outside of the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children on Good Friday in Homestead, Florida, on April 19, 2019.

On the eve of an expected crackdown by federal immigration authorities in Miami and across the country that sparked panic among undocumented immigrants in South Florida, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Homestead detention center Friday night to call for the release of the children inside and to stand against federal immigration policies.

In the overcast but windless, humid evening, the crowd shouted chants and waved handwritten signs as Miami-Dade police and Homeland Security officers stood sentinel outside the 3,200-bed facility.

They marched along the fence line of the shelter, shouting out to the children inside and carrying battery-powered candles. Some appeared to wave back from inside their nondescript dormitory buildings.

“Until the kids are free,” they sang, “I’m gonna let it shine.”

Tray Young, a 15-year-old student at Homestead High School, holds a sign denouncing federal immigration raids expected on Sunday during a protest outside the Homestead migrant shelter Friday night.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is expected to target immigrant families with deportation orders in the following major metropolitan areas in addition to Miami: New York City, Los Angeles, Baltimore/Washington, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, San Diego, San Francisco, Denver and New Orleans.

Dressed as the Statue of Liberty, 32-year-old Kim Dietz said she flew from San Fransisco to bear witness to the detention of children at the Homestead camp, which she called “ground zero” for the country’s immigration crisis.

She said it was “critical” for members of the public to see their government’s for-profit immigration complex, and that she was far from the only out-of-state visitor at the rally Friday.

Protesters say their signs were taken down outside the Homestead shelter for unaccompanied minors, so they decided to project their message on the buildings instead.

The looming threat of federal immigration raids amplified protesters’ message and served as a rallying cry for those calling attention to the fear undocumented immigrants feel in the country.

For Dietz, it felt un-American — but not unfamiliar.

“It seems like a repeat of what has happened other times in history, including the Holocaust,” she said.

The group Witness Homestead helped organize the rally with local immigrant-advocacy groups. Organizers said the protest was one of about 700 that took place across the U.S. and abroad to denounce the immigration policies of President Donald Trump.

Witness Homestead has held a daily vigil at the detention center for the past 150 days, the group said.

Immigrant advocates told the Miami Herald on Friday that they were setting up secret sanctuary spaces for immigrants fearful of getting caught up in the raids and working to pass around fliers about their rights.

Miami Democrats in Congress likened their efforts to warn constituents about the expected raids to preparations homeowners undertake before a major hurricane.

The detention center has shed about 450 children to meet hurricane safety standards, according to Amnesty International. About 1,750 children were housed inside as of Friday, down from 2,200 last week.

During the so-called zero tolerance immigration policy of President Donald Trump in 2018, at least 55 child migrants separated from their families were sent to the Homestead center, according to a congressional report by the U.S. House Oversight Committee released Friday.

The children held at the detention center undergo “prison-like” regimens and may have sustained psychological damage from being away from their families, according to a May court filing by lawyers who visited the center. The filing details a daily routine that prohibits hugging and touching among housed children. Showers are limited to five minutes, and meals are 15 minutes, the filing states.

An artist projects messages on the fencing outside the Homestead child detention center on Friday during a protest at the shelter. The messages included excerpts of a legal filing describing conditions inside the center, which currently houses 1,750 minors. Martin Vassolo

The children are permitted two 10-minute telephone calls a week to speak with family members, the lawyers said.

Excerpts of the court filings were projected on the fencing that borders the facility on Friday.

The plight of the children detained at the center was highlighted last month as Homestead became a high-profile gathering spot for Democratic candidates for president in Miami for the first Democratic presidential debates.

For Susan Markley of Palmetto Bay, the calling to protest at the detention center came from her home’s proximity to those housed inside.

“This place is in my backyard and I feel a responsibility to add my voice to all the people here who think it’s inhumane,” she said.