Is Homestead calling it quits? No more additional kids to be taken to detention center

The Homestead detention center is no longer taking in new children at its facility, government officials say.

The hold on the placement of unaccompanied minors began at least two weeks ago alongside the efforts of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to downsize its child population by more than half, to 1,300 from 2,700.

“There are no plans to close Homestead at the moment,” an HHS spokeswoman told the Miami Herald in a text Monday.

Since the suspension on new kids was launched, about 1,000 children have been either reunited with sponsors or transferred to other shelters — which the government didn’t name Monday.

“I can tell you that the majority of those kids were united with a sponsor, which is fantastic news,” said HHS spokesman Mark Weber. “Where some of the other kids are being transferred if they didn’t have a sponsor — that I would have to look into.”

Weber noted that the children transferred from Homestead were definitely not taken to Carrizo Springs, in Texas, the government’s newest influx center for unaccompanied minors.

Last week, the government told a touring delegation that it needed to shrink its population from 2,700 to at most 1,200 in order to be considered “safe” in case a category 1 hurricane hits South Florida. Homestead has a capacity for 3,200 beds.

Monday’s population was at approximately 1,300, Weber said. He couldn’t say if the agency would stop dispatching children to their families at the same pace once they reach 1,200, or if the speedy reunifications would continue.

In late May, the Miami Herald reported that the center did not have a hurricane plan ready despite the coming hurricane season. Months later, the federal government has yet to provide the plans to the Herald and members of Congress, or their strategy for a Category 2, 3, 4, or 5 storm.

Whether or not the the Homestead center will close has been on the minds of immigration advocates for months. For months advocates from across the country have camped out outside in hopes that the facility will shut down, but government officials say it isn’t happening — at least not yet.

Inside the Homestead shelter for unaccompanied minors HHS

Last week Weber told the Herald that the agency is currently seeking to eliminate emergency shelters altogether, but that it could take at least two years before that happens.

“The agency is looking at Atlanta, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix to stand up permanent state-licensed shelters that will serve as influx facilities if we need them,” Weber said. “The current strategy, temporary influx shelters, it’s just not feasible.”

Weber said the permanent facilities would be more cost effective and would be smaller, housing 500 unaccompanied minors or fewer.

“The reason the kids are being reunited way faster today and in recent weeks is because of the newest policy changes,” Weber said. “Not because Homestead is shutting down.”

Last year, the Trump administration came under heavy criticism over its treatment of people seeking to become legal guardians of the minors. The Office of Refugee Resettlement was sharing guardianship application information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which would then go after undocumented sponsors identified in the paperwork, as well as all members of their household, who were required to be fingerprinted. That changed months ago when only the sponsor had to get fingerprinted.

Now, grandparents and adult siblings don’t need to get fingerprinted in order to apply to be a sponsor for a child, which makes for a speedier process, Weber said.

Meanwhile near the facility on Monday, seven coach buses were spotted at the Homestead Miami Speedway. Speedway leaders told the Herald that Caliburn, the company running the shelter, rented out their parking lot in order to transport Caliburn employees to and from work.

Each bus had its U.S. Department of Transportation identifying information covered with black bags and tape. Two years ago the company rented out the same lot, but when their center was expanding, not shrinking.

HHS has not responded to emails as to what the buses are being used for and why several Department of Homeland Security cruisers were delivered to Homestead on a flatbed truck.

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.