MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Saturday that all unaccompanied minors sheltered at the Homestead facility have been moved out of the site.
A spokesperson for HHS said the children, “have either 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.”
HHS said since the facility’s activation in March 2018, about 14,300 unaccompanied minors have been brought to the site.
The department said no new children had been placed in the facility since July 3, 2019, and they plan to reduce bed capacity from 2,700 beds to 1,200.
Tina Marie Davidson, a protester outside of the facility, provided CBS4 with cellphone video showing some of the last children being moved out.
Davidson had been outside of the site every day, for more than five months.
“We were here until two or three in the morning, witnessing and noticing some unusual activity with vans coming in and out,” said Davidson. “The sun was still barely out. We just made noise and made sure to make some noise to all the boys and kids that were left and send them out love.”
In a statement, HHS said, “As HHS experienced record breaking referral numbers in FY 2019, we worked to expand shelter capacity which included the necessary activation of influx shelters. However, given lower levels of referrals over the last several weeks, and due to historically high levels of UAC discharges to vetted sponsor, we are required to adjust our operational strategy balancing appropriate use of UAC resources while remaining prepared for unexpected referral surges and/or emergency contingency planning. Consequently, these changes in bed capacity levels in some instances include personnel adjustments by our UAC grantees and contractors. At this time, retaining bed capacity at the Homestead influx facility is necessary to provide care and services to UAC as mandated. We anticipate an uptick in the number of referrals made to HHS this fall, based on historical trends. We will continue to keep Congress, local officials, and stakeholders abreast of future plans pertaining to the Homestead site.”
South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz reacted to the news in a statement saying, “I will seek a full accounting of where these hundreds of children who were reportedly relocated from the Homestead detention center ended up. While this is being portrayed as a safety measure, given this Administration’s abysmal and cruel track record, I fear it’s an attempt to skirt scrutiny and accountability. These young people must be connected with eligible sponsors. They must not be reshuffled through this Administration’s brutish migrant detention system. It is also disturbing that the facility was suddenly able to relocate more than 3,000 children in under a month. Last year, during a very active hurricane season, there were no major movements of children and suddenly, they are all moved supposedly because of a tropical depression? For months, HHS complained of backlogs, yet it has now relocated all children at Homestead without full explanation. HHS must be more transparent, and I will continue to demand answers about the fates of these children.”
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who has visited the facility several times, took to twitter in reaction to the news, saying, “From reducing the # of children held at Homestead to forcing the Administration to produce a hurricane plan, our community’s persistent advocacy brought about real results. However, I still have many questions about #HomesteadShutdown. These children should be with family members or with certified sponsors. I won’t stop until we GET ANSWERS from Trump and Azar.”
Azar being Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
From reducing the # of children held at Homestead to forcing the Administration to produce a hurricane plan, our community’s persistent advocacy brought about real results. However, I still have many questions about #HomesteadShutdown (Thread)https://t.co/bN6P5kxtuC
— Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (@RepDMP) August 3, 2019
Rep. Donna Shalala also tweeted out her reaction to the removal of the children saying, “The closure of this shelter is bittersweet. Families are still being torn apart, kids continue to be held in detention for months for profit, & a racist administration insists on undermining our country’s values. We cannot rest until we put an end to all three.”
Just days before the less than 300 remaining minors were moved out, workers inside the facility told CBS4 they could be removed in a matter of days and that many of them had already been transferred to smaller facilities.
Employees are being given no guarantees about how long their jobs will remain with nearly 4,000 staff members expected to be let go.
A spokesperson for Caliburn International, the company running the facility, said in a statement:
“We will continue working with Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement to support their requirements in providing bed capacity as needed at Homestead for future unaccompanied alien children (UAC) care and services. Our top priority will always remain providing a safe and caring environment for UAC while striving to expeditiously unite them with appropriate sponsors.”
Caliburn is expected to keep the facility open with a skeleton staff of around 300 employees, in case the Trump Administration plans to send more children or permanent shelters become too crowded.
WATCH JIM DEFEDE’S SPECIAL INSIDE THE HOMESTEAD FACILITY: THE WHISTLEBLOWER:
WATCH JIM DEFEDE’S SPECIAL SOFIA’S STORY: INSIDE THE HOMESTEAD FACILITY:
ABOUT THE FACILITY
The Homestead shelter, which is the only for-profit child detention center in the country, was the largest child detention center in the United States for unaccompanied minors. At one point this summer it housed 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.
Many of the children that housed at the facility are fleeing gang and domestic violence and will end up seeking asylum.
Children slept 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.
The children had school six hours a day and there are recreational activities.
At night, lights went out in the rooms at 10 p.m. but were left on in the hallways. The children were awakened each day at 6:30 a.m. for a full day’s program of activities and classes.
During the day, the kids were provided with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks.
The children met with their attorneys once a week. They also had access to clinicians and social workers.
On their arrival, they are given a five day supply of clothes, laundry was 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.