MIAMI – Groups of activists hailed on Monday the fact that US authorities have shut down the facilities of the migrant children detention center in Homestead, Florida, but they warned that “the problem has not been solved.”
At a press conference held outside the now-closed center located about 48 kilometers (30 miles) south of Miami, pro-immigrant activists called the Donald Trump administration’s decision to close it a “victory” and “a step forward,” given that the minors who had been held there have been moved elsewhere.
“More than two months ago there were more than 3,200 children being held here at the Homestead detention center and today not one is left,” said Maria Martinez, with the We Count! group, although she added that the effort “is not over” and here group will continue the fight to bring a halt to the administration’s policy of separating migrant families.
The activists who gathered in front of the center – surrounded by a chain-link fence – on Monday also demanded to know where the migrant children are now being housed.
South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she agreed with the activists that both the facility and the US government have to clarify where the children are now.
“I will seek a full accounting of where these hundreds of children who were reportedly relocated from the Homestead detention center ended up,” she said in a statement.
On Saturday, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement announcing that all children who had been housed at the center, which was the country’s largest for detained unaccompanied foreign minors, had been “reunified with an appropriate sponsor or transferred to a state-licensed facility within the ORR network of care providers as of August 3, 2019.”
After several media outlets published reports on that matter, HHS spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer confirmed in a statement that the so-called Homestead “shelter,” which had found itself in the center of public controversy since it was opened in March 2018, was now empty.
At the Monday press conference, Paula Muñoz, with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said that when she came to the US at age seven as an exile she was separated from her mother and she asserted that undocumented children experience “those emotions and traumas while they are in these detention camps.”
“It should not be a requirement that they are separated from their relatives. We’re going to continue fighting and organizing ourselves until the separation of families stops,” she said.
In turn, Maria Bilbao, with United We Dream, emphasized that just as they had been calling for the Trump administration to close the Homestead facility “and all these camps,” they had also demanded the reunification of migrant families who had been separated after being detained near the US southern border with Mexico.
The Homestead center, which had the capacity to house 3,200 minors and was operated by a private company, Comprehensive Health Services, owned by Caliburn International, was questioned by pro-immigrant organizations and Democratic lawmakers who visited it in June and called for it to be closed.
According to the HHS, since it was opened more than 14,300 children and teens who entered the US illegally without their parents or other adult guardians had passed through the center.
On July 30, Florida Congresswoman Anna Eskamani said that the Trump administration was exploring the possibility of leasing in the future state-owned properties in Florida, Virginia and California as “permanent shelters” for unaccompanied migrant minors.
Expectations are that Caliburn International is expected to keep the center open in a minimal way – albeit with a staff of around 300 employees – in case the US government decides to send more children to it or other permanent shelters become too crowded.