Op-Ed

Homestead detention center is no kids’ summer camp | Opinion

el Nuevo Herald

If you were to formulate an impression of the detention center for children in Homestead by watching local news, you would probably think that it’s somewhat of a summer camp. These journalists have been granted multiple tours of the facility and have mostly regurgitated talking points fed to them and failed to analyze the systemic issues rooted in the detainment of these children.

Fortunately there have been a few bright spots in the journalism related to what’s happening in this facility. The Miami New Times not only broke the story of the center reopening but has followed the financial dealings of the company contracted to manage the facility and the Miami Herald has also done good reporting on the issue.

Now a groundbreaking 705 page report written by lawyers who spent time inside the detention center speaking to the migrant children held there has revealed the deplorable conditions within its walls and the mistreatment these children suffer.

The detention center has been expanded twice since reopening; first, in December when they increased the number of beds from 1,200 to 2,350, and again in April, to 3,200. Currently over 2,300 kids are held at the center and it’s on track to become bigger than the neighboring Homestead Senior High School.

The children are subjected to a strict, prison-like daily routine. They cannot go to the bathroom nor have water without permission and a counselor wearing a red hat has to accompany them.

They have five minutes to shower and fifteen minutes to eat their meals, for which both of these they are lined up single file. They get two weekly calls to family members for ten minutes each, but if a family member does not pick up they miss the chance. The Miami Herald story contains a quote detailing how one kid was distraught after not being able to reach a family member for their birthday.

At the center there is absolutely no touching, hugging, lending of clothes or taking food to their sleeping rooms. The bathrooms are described by advocates as unsanitary and the rugs of smelling like mildew.

The kids have reported being threatened by youth counselors who told them that if they don’t follow the rules or pay attention, they would “get a report” and that if you get a report, “you’ll end up spending more time here.”

The kids are so distraught at the conditions in which they are kept that several have told the attorneys who interviewed them that they are cutting themselves.

The attorneys who conducted these interviews and authored the report are there to investigate how the federal government is currently violating the Flores agreement, which stipulates that migrant children need to be released to a parent, family, guardian or a licensed program within twenty days of entering detention.

Comprehensive Health Services is the company charged with running the site.

Since 2016, the company decided to expand business by entering the immigrant detention business and has contracted with these types of facilities, making a lot of profit in the process. The Miami Herald reported recently that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had awarded it a no-bid $341 million contract. This does not include a $600,000 “qualified target-industry” tax-incentive package awarded by previous Florida governor Rick Scott just as the company was getting ready to pay a $3.8 million settlement to the U.S. Department of Justice over a medical-fraud claim.

While Comprehensive Health Services and by extension its parent company Caliburn (which former DHS head and Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly sits on the board) is clearly benefiting from public sector dollars, it is also being heavily financed by corporate backers. Financial documents show that Bank of America is one of Caliburn’s main financiers, providing a $380 million loan and a $75 million revolving credit line.

In the past few months, heavyweight financial institutions such as Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase announced that they would end ties with for-profit prisons. They did not do this out of the kindness of their hearts but because of relentless pressure by immigration advocates and the negative attention it brought to their business. It is unfortunate that Bank of America has not followed the example of these other companies.

When asked if they would consider divesting from for-profit prisons and particularly the Homestead detention center for children, a spokeswoman said the bank would offer no comment, according to the Miami Herald.

Modern banking institutions have always been greedy; however the corrupt and systemic profiteering from the detention of immigrants is a low point for these banks. Putting a for-profit motive on the freedom of individuals is immoral. Putting a for-profit motive on the freedom of children is despicable.

Kids don’t belong in cages or in detention. In Homestead, this detention facility has been allowed to attach a for-profit motive to the detention of hundreds of immigrant kids while operating without transparency or accountability.

The result is a place where children are packed like sardines in over capacity bedrooms and classrooms, and are not allowed to touch each other for months at a time while enduring mistreatment.

Thomas Kennedy is the Political Director for FLIC Votes and a communications fellow for Community Change. He tweets from @Tomaskenn.

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