MIAMI (CBSMiami) – YC recalls being trained for the position of Youth Care Worker inside the Homestead detention center where thousands of migrant teens have been held.
“The main thing was don’t make friends with these kids, that they are violent and you cannot make friends with them,” YC explains. “And they will accuse you of sexual assault as soon as they can. Those are the main things I learned.”
For the first time, an employee inside Homestead is speaking out – offering unique insights into how the migrant children are being treated. We are hiding the worker’s identity and referring to them as YC (the initials for Youth Care), because workers are required to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing them from revealing anything they see or hear inside the detention center.
“The job is pretty intense,” YC explains. “We have to be constantly watching them. It’s really high stress.”
The adversarial tone between workers and children extends to how they refer to the kids. They are called U-A-Cs, which stands for Unaccompanied Alien Children.
The worker says many of the kids refer to Homestead as a prison
“They call it la prision,” YC says.
And there are workers who re-enforce that belief – threatening the kids that if they break the rules they will remain locked up.
“They will be like, `If you don’t sit down I’ll write a report on you,’” YC explains. “The kids themselves have told me, `Is it true our case will be lengthened and we’ll be here longer?’ They feel that if they get reports on them their time is going to be lengthened for sure.”
YC remembered one girl who was terrified she was going to be written up because she had lice.
“The girl started crying, `Is this going to affect me being here? Am I not going to be able to be released from here? Are they going to deport me because of this?’”
In another instance, YC was warned about a particular teen.
“People kept telling me, `Yeah, he’s a problem kid. Watch out with him.’”
At first, YC heeded the warning before finally talking to the boy.
“This one kid was like, `People say I’m bad but it’s not that I’m bad, it’s just that I don’t know how to be with people. I was abandoned as a kid and I don’t really have family and I’ve been here for a while so I don’t know what to do,’” Yv recounts.
This incident illustrates one of the fundamental problems critics have with Homestead which can house as many as three thousand kids at a time. Children do better in smaller group settings, most experts say.
The large scale operation also leads to a strict set of rules. Five minutes to shower. Five minutes to use the bathroom. No more than 15 minutes to eat a meal in the cafeteria.
“The faster the better,” YC says.
Children are required to walk single file in straight lines. They are not allowed to wear their baseball caps backwards. And are allowed outside one hour a day to play.
YC said it was common for the kids to become increasingly frustrated.
“Anybody would get fed up with that after four months of doing the same routine over and over,” YC says. “Nothing changes.”
YC said kids would grow so angry they would actually hurt themselves by punching walls or using the edge of their plastic identification cards to dig into their arms or legs.
In a statement a Caliburn spokesperson disputed kids are mistreated or are unhappy inside Homestead. The spokesperson cited a survey the company conducts with kids before they are released.
“More than 9,800 children have completed the survey,” the Caliburn statement noted. “When asked to rate their satisfaction with their stay at Homestead, 85% responded “very much” (top category) and 10% responded “mostly” (the remainder categories, rating under 5% collectively, were “sometimes,” “not much” and “not at all”).”
Although it has never been previously reported, CBS Miami has confirmed some kids have escaped – by either running through an open delivery gate or jumping the fence.
“It’s usually the ones that have been there the longest that start doing these things,” YC says. “And they start acting up in these sorts of ways.”
These problems are kept from the public and hidden from officials who visit the detention center. Recently CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez toured Homestead with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
When Bojorquez asked Azar “if you are showing us a sanitized version” of the facility, Azar responded, “Nope, you’re seeing what I see when I come here.”
But YC says whenever a member of congress or other high ranking person visits the facility, the workers are warned well in advance. –
“They tell us, hey there’s a visit, make sure you are on your best behavior, clean, clean up the hallways,” YC claims. “There will be security guards who will tell us, hey ask the cleaning ladies to spray so that it smells good.’”
Despite the attitudes of some workers, YC said many do care about the children. YC said it’s hard not to feel sympathy for the teens.
“They are not evil at all,” YC offers. “I’ve had so many of them tell me about how they had to go away because the gangs were trying to recruit them and the [gangs] either killed their mom or their dad. Or they were abandoned as kids so they had nobody. And they always heard that America was the place to come to get ahead in life. So they came running this way.”
For YC and other workers, the emotional toll of working at Homestead can be too much.
“Pretty much I cry, I let it out and I cry a lot,” YC says. “I talk to my family and my friends so they can remind me, `Oh, you’re doing okay. It’s a good thing you are there. They need somebody like you there, somebody patient and loving to be there for them.’”
It’s the reason that for now at least YC stays.
“I’m there for these kids, I want to be a voice for them somehow.”
WATCH: Caliburn Disputes Claims Children Are Unhappy At Homestead Facility