ORLANDO (CBSMiami/AP) — There could be more facilities for unaccompanied minors coming to different parts of the United States.
The Trump administration is scouting sites in central Florida, Virginia and Los Angeles for future facilities to hold unaccompanied minors who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent letters to Florida lawmakers Monday saying it is looking for vacant properties in those locations to build permanent licensed facilities for children under age 18 who have entered the United State illegally without a parent or guardian.
The permanent sites will minimize the need for unlicensed temporary detention centers, according to the letter.
“The search for an addition of permanent licensed facilities is being pursued to reduce the potential need for temporary influx shelters in the future,” the letter said.
The nation’s largest child migrant facility is in Homestead, Florida, where immigrant advocates have described “prisonlike” conditions.
Existing migrant facilities have become a flashpoint in the 2020 presidential race. In recent weeks, Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates have visited and toured facilities in Texas and Florida and decried the conditions in which they found migrants. Protests have sprung up nationwide as the public outcry builds momentum.
“We should be closing camps, not opening new ones,” tweeted Democratic Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, one of the Florida lawmakers who received the letter.
The proposed facilities will be state licensed with occupancy set for spring 2020. Unlike other facilities, the department won’t rely on contractors’ own ready-to-go properties.
Instead, the department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement will lease the properties, build them out to meet state licensure requirements and bring in a service provider to operate them according to state licensure requirements, the letter said.
Earlier this month, the department said it was scouting sites for facilities around Atlanta; Phoenix; Dallas; Houston; and San Antonio, Texas.
ABOUT THE HOMESTEAD 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.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)