On Monday, Congressman Eric Swalwell, a co-sponsor of the Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act (H.R. 3239), visited the Homestead detention center in South Florida, where up to 3,200 children are currently being held in prison-like conditions.
The facility is the only shelter for immigrant children run by a for-profit corporation, Florida-based Comprehensive Health Services. The contract for the operation of the Homestead facility, renewed in April on an unusual no-bid basis by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is worth $341 million. Comprehensive’s parent company, Caliburn International, stated in its initial public offering last fall that the Trump administration’s immigration policy is “driving significant growth” for its business.
The Homestead facility is also the only shelter not to be overseen by state regulators. While it is located on federal property, since it is a temporary overflow facility, it does not need to be licensed by the State of Florida, and does not need to follow Florida child care standards.
“I cannot convey how horrifying it was to stand outside, after being denied any confirmation on how the children were doing or details of their treatment,” said Swalwell.
Recent filings regarding the detention camp, called a “temporary influx facility,” have documented people hearing children, 13-17 years of age, crying. A young girl said that some are cutting themselves.
A group of attorneys was allowed access to the facility by a federal judge in February to assess the welfare of unaccompanied children in federal custody. Leecia Welch, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and Child Welfare at the National Center for Youth Law, explained to NPR that children are not allowed to touch one another under any circumstances. This includes a prohibition on touching their own siblings or hugging a friend goodbye. Welch reported seeing “extremely traumatized children, some of whom sit across from us and can’t stop crying over what they’re experiencing.”
Concerned with the treatment of the immigrant youth, most of whom are from Central America, Swalwell remarked, “We cannot let this continue. As a parent, as an American, as a human being, I will fight for decency and humane policies, not this Trumpian nightmare that ruins the lives of so many children. What I saw goes against everything we stand for. It was evil.
“Sadly, this is not the only detention camp. This is not a standalone incident. Trump, the Department of Health and Human Services, and this administration are continuously attacking Latinx communities. They've ripped apart families, caged thousands of children, weaponized the census, and dehumanized refugees and Latinx folks.”
Organizations such as RAICES (the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) in Texas and Immigrant Families Together are accepting donations to assist separated families and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the U.S.