The prison camp for migrant children in Homestead, Florida, will apparently remain closed after all. The Biden administration had last month said it would reopen the camp to hold asylum-seeking unaccompanied children who are arriving to the U.S., a decision that outraged advocates worried over past conditions inside the unlicensed, for-profit camp.
But Axios this week said that President Biden now reportedly opposes reopening Homestead, “telling the federal agency overwhelmed with caring for migrant minors to find other options,” that report said. “President Biden’s commitment to not reopen Homestead is a victory delivered by and for our brave movement leaders who jumped into action the moment we heard Homestead might reopen,” United We Dream (UWD) Florida State Coordinator Thomas Kennedy said in a statement received by Daily Kos.
A number of advocates including UWD, American Friends Service Committee, and Southern Poverty Law Center had called on the Biden administration to reverse the reported opening of Homestead. “The camp was the subject of national outrage in 2019 because of reports of sexual abuse, human-rights violations, overcrowding, and negligent hiring practices,” Miami New Times reported last month.
While it was unclear who would now be operating the camp, the for-profit company that previously ran it had ties to former White House chief of staff John Kelly. “During Kelly's tenure, the administration pursued ambitious changes to immigration enforcement, and the average length of stay for an unaccompanied migrant child in U.S. custody skyrocketed,” CBS News reported in 2019. Even after the previous administration emptied out Homestead, it kept the empty jail running to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
Axios reports that a White House spokesperson said the Biden administration "remains deeply engaged on the influx of unaccompanied minors at the border and we’re working around the clock to continue to find ways to more quickly process individuals and unite children with vetted and confirmed family members or sponsors.”
The Biden administration has been processing children who for a major part of 2020 were blocked under policies of the previous administration. These children are now being transferred to Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody until they can be placed with a sponsor, usually a relative already here. But as they wait for that placement, advocates have argued against the use of these so-called “influx facilities,” saying small-setting options are more appropriate.
“When government custody is the only option, children should be placed in small, licensed, non-profit shelters or foster care,” Immigration Impact said. “Influx shelters should be a last resort.” But the report also said that “[r]egardless of facility type, experts agree that children should spend as little time as possible in government custody. Even at licensed facilities, children have made thousands of allegations of sexual abuse and harassment. Group facilities can be retraumatizing for children who experienced violence in their home country and on the way to the United States.”
In the statement received by Daily Kos, advocates called on the Biden administration to redirect funds from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, and instead “invest in community-based resources that prioritize the safety and humanity of all immigrants arriving at the border and stop the expansion of detention facilities.” ICE has an annual budget of $8 billion. “Since 2003, the budget of CBP, which includes both the Border Patrol and operations at ports of entry, has also nearly tripled, rising from $5.9 billion in FY 2003 to a high of $17.7 billion in FY 2021,” American Immigration Council said.
"We get that the issue is complicated, but we're supposedly the richest and most powerful country in the world,” Kennedy said according to Miami New Times. “We have the resources and the imagination to create something better. We just have to come up with something more humane. These are children we're talking about. We care about all folks in immigration detention, but when we're talking about children, it's especially heinous."