In a facility in Homestead, Florida some migrant children are held for many months at a time – including some cases of 6 months. Artwork by the children decorate the building walls with uplifting sentiments like “I have a dream” in Spanish, and “through these doors walk the greatest people in the world!” The facility is a temporary shelter and on federal land next to an Air Reserve Base, so it is unlicensed and not required to follow state child welfare standards.
As is, the facility violates many child welfare standards due to its prison camp nature. There are several cases of children suffering from tremendous psychological self- harm and suicidal thoughts/tendencies. The children wear wristbands that track their movement, walk in single-file lines, and require permission for everything including using the bathroom and obtaining water. Staff members accompany minors almost everywhere and periodically search their rooms. Everyone is allotted 5 minutes to shower, 15 to eat, and are allowed to talk to their family members on the phone twice a week for 10 minutes at a time.
The facility is run by Comprehensive Health Services, Inc., which is a private, for-profit company with a growing line of business in housing immigrant children. It costs approximately $250 per day to house a migrant child at a standard, permanent shelter, so in total at Homestead it is roughly $1.2 million per day. In Homestead, 1,600 migrant children are housed and 250 additional beds have been installed in the last 2 months so they can soon house 2,350 children. Some of the children were separated from their families during Trump’s Zero Tolerance last year, but most crossed alone with the intention of reuniting with a parent or close relative in the US.
Due to an influx of unaccompanied children and a lack of funding to match, unaccompanied children in government detention centers will no longer have English classes, recreational programs or legal aid according to the Department of Health and Human Services because they are not ‘directly necessary for the protection of life and safety.’ However, under the terms of the 1997 Flores court settlement, immigrant children in custody must be taught English 5 days a week and have at least 1 hour of recreational time each day.
For the most part, international human rights norms do not encourage nations to jail asylum seekers in any capacity. It is a choice that the Trump Administration has chosen to make. Many immigrant advocates fault poor case management for the lengthy stays many migrant children face. One could argue that, once again, the Trump Administration is using vulnerable children as bargaining chips to secure funds from Congress and demand quick responses.
Educational/language classes and recreational activities are crucial to maintaining physical and mental health while migrant children are in government custody. If the Trump Administration strips them of these basic necessities, it is stripping these vulnerable children of their dignity and humanity, reducing them to being treated like sub-human prisoners. Furthermore, depriving children of legal aid is teetering on the line of setting these children up for failure. Many do not speak English (well) nor do they understand the US legal system enough to make informed decisions without guidance. Legal aids are helpful in making decisions best for the young individuals, telling them when and where to show up for court hearings, and what to do with the lengthy and complicated information presented to them in a language even some of their adult counterparts are not familiar with.
- The ACLU: a non-profit with a longstanding commitment to preserving and protecting the individual rights and liberties the Constitution and US laws guarantee all its citizens. You can also donate monthly to counter Trump’s attacks on people’s rights. Recently, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the separation of families at the border.
- The National Immigration Law Center: an organization that exclusively dedicates itself to defending and furthering the rights of low income immigrants and strives to educate decision makers on the impacts and effects of their policies on this overlooked part of the population.
- us: an organization that aims to promote the tech community to support policies that keep the American Dream alive. They specifically and currently focus on immigration reform.
- Kids in Need of Defense: an organization that promotes the protection of children as they migrate alone in search of safety and ensuring children’s rights are upheld and respected.
Photo by Johnny Wall