MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The US Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to CBS4 News Monday night that unaccompanied children from the southern border will no longer be sent to the facility in South Miami-Dade.

In an email, a spokesperson said the number of children crossing the border is down. He also said the shelter in South Miami-Dade is only temporary and used when the other more than 100 smaller permanent shelters are at capacity.

HHS said it’s too early to speculate what’s next for the facility and whether it will close its doors once again. The last time it was closed, it was still maintained and ready to reopen.

The announcement came after Congressional Democrats toured the Homestead child detention facility that houses unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border.

The visit was part of an oversight mission.

“This is the United States of America,” said Rep. Charlie Crist.  “We’ve got to be humane. We’ve got to treat people with decency, no matter where they’re from. And we gotta start doing it now.”

The congressional members are on the appropriations subcommittee in charge of overseeing the funds used here.

“We are the committee of jurisdiction,” explained Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. “And you can rest assured we are gonna keep their feet to the fire and again the goal. The goal is to get these children to placements and out of a temporary facility.”

South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has questions that remain unanswered.

She wants to know how a thousand kids got moved from the facility in the day before their arrival.

“And what the heck,” she said. “From July 3 through July 14 suddenly they’re able to drop a thousand kids here when they couldn’t do that as quickly before? Where did they go?”

“We want an accounting of all of this,” said Rep. DeLauro. “If we could have moved these children that quickly, why haven’t we been moving them all along?”

CBS4 asked the company that operates the facility.  A spokesperson told us releases are happening more quickly because of a policy change at the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

On July 3rd the population was 2252, now it’s 1309. 943 children were released.

The group also wants assurances that when kids are placed with families or sponsors that the information is not shared with ICE and used later.

“We did learn today that there’s clearly information like addresses of where children are going, who’s sponsoring them, phone numbers, contact information that clearly could be used by the department of homeland security that can engage in enforcement action against those potential sponsors,” said Rep. Wasserman-Schultz.

CBS4 learned that contact information is provided to the Department of Homeland Security within 24 hours of a child’s release.

DHS requires it so they can get in touch with children about upcoming hearings.

ABOUT THE FACILITY 

The Homestead shelter, which is the only for-profit child detention center in the country, currently houses over 1300 children, all ages 13 to 17 years old.

It is the largest child detention center in the United States for unaccompanied minors, at one point this summer housing around 3000 children.

The facility is run by Caliburn International, a Virginia based company awarded a government contract to manage the center.

President Donald Trump’s former Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, is on the company’s board.

Caliburn International operates the facility under a no-bid contract that is worth more than $350 million.

They are waiting to be reunited with their families or paired with sponsors once they are screened by the U.S. government.

Many of the children are fleeing gang and domestic violence and will end up seeking asylum.

Children sleep up to 12 per room in steel-framed bunk beds, and warehouse-sized, air-conditioned white tents where minors attend classes and watch movies.

The facility has a command center. Inside are cameras, computers, and staff members who watch over the kids. They keep track of how many kids are in the shelter and how many are moved.

While numbers vary, officials say most are reunited with family members. Those who are not can be at the shelter for as long as 57 days. On average, a child’s stay there is about 25 days.

The children have school six hours a day and there are recreational activities.

At night, lights go out in the rooms at 10 p.m. but are left on in the hallways. The children are awakened each day at 6:30 a.m. for a full day’s program of activities and classes.

During the day, the kids are provided breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks.

The children meet with their attorneys once a week. They also have access to clinicians and social workers.

On their arrival, they are given a five day supply of clothes, laundry is done every other day.

The facility, contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services, is surrounded by chain-link fence, but there is no barbed wire. There are guards, but they are not armed. Doors have been removed from the dormitory bedrooms.

 

Ted Scouten

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