Last week John and I joined a group of friends and visited the Homestead Temporary Detention Center for Unaccompanied Children, the private facility where more than 3,000 migrant children are currently being held as they await immigration proceedings. We weren’t allowed to enter, of course. But we were able to connect with the group of witnesses keeping daily vigil just outside of the center’s walls. We took turns mounting one of a row of stepladders facing the children’s exercise yard and held up signs assuring them that they are loved, seen, and remembered by those of us standing outside.
I had been to the area around the detention center before, having attended the Mother’s Day March with my family on May 12. And I had seen pictures on the Witness: Tornillo. Target: Homestead Facebook page of months’ worth of other visitors, including the intrepid FL-26 Representative Debbie Murcarsel-Powell, looking grave as they hailed the young detainees on the other side of the wall–waving, holding signs indicating love and support, including giant cardboard eyes and huge cardboard hearts. But it wasn’t until I looked over the wall myself that I felt the enormity of what we as a country, and we as a community, are allowing to happen there.
I knew intellectually that it was wrong, I knew it morally and historically. I read the articles, I signed the petitions, I donated to the causes. But standing there waving a heart placard and having a young detained teenager raise his cap to wave back brought me to tears. I’m not someone who believes that you need to feel the wrongness of a situation in order to act. I do believe that knowing it is enough. But standing on that stepladder, inhabiting that makeshift site of care and of witness, offered a visceral jolt of urgency: We have to end this here and now.
Here is what we can do.
Learn the Background and Spread the Word:
It is important to understand that detaining immigrant children in this way is new, deliberately brutal, extrajudicial (it is justified by an “emergency declaration,” rather than existing law and practice), and in violation of international human rights standards.
The Homestead facility is especially alarming because it is a privately-run for-profit enterprise exempt from most local supervision. For example, there have been reports of abuse within the center (beyond the abuse of detention itself) forwarded to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), but they have so far gone unaddressed because the Homestead facility is apparently outside of state jurisdiction.
As the American Friends Service Committee explains in their excellent overview here, because Homestead is categorized as an “emergency influx shelter,” it is permitted to violate the terms of the Flores Settlement (1997), which stipulates that immigrant children must be transferred to a non-secure, licensed facility within three to five days of apprehension. Again, we have standards for the treatment of unaccompanied minors. We are deliberately violating them.
Beyond our nation’s laws, The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention explicitly defines family separation as genocidal.
Follow the News:
Child detention is finally receiving the broad national coverage it deserves in the New York Times, NPR, MSNBC, and elsewhere. Jerry Iannelli at the Miami New Times and Monique O. Madan at the Miami Herald have been doing especially strong work locally. Look for their bylines in the papers and follow them on Twitter (Iannelli; Madan) to keep up to date.
Join and Support the Witnesses:
The Witness: Tornillo. Target: Homestead folks are moral witnesses, but also whistle-blowers and watchdogs. For example, they recognized former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly getting a private tour of the detention center, leading to the revelation that he had joined the board of Caliburn International, which runs the facility.
Their Facebook page includes regular updates on developments at the facility and links to relevant news about this detention crisis.
This document prepared by Women’s March Miami provides detailed background information about the history of the facility, the conditions there, what to expect when you visit, and how to help.
The Detention Center is located next to the Homestead Air Reserve Base. It is an easy 30-40 minute drive from the Miami core. Take the Turnpike South to exit 9A, turn right onto Moody Drive, left onto SW 127th Ave, and left again to reach 920 Bougainville Boulevard.
Bring friends. The witnesses need and deserve the moral support our presence brings, as do the detainees.
Support Other Local Organizations Doing Grassroots Work:
The Florida Immigrant Coalition provides support to immigrants and political advocacy for better immigration laws.
WeCount! supports and empowers immigrant laborers in Homestead through education and political organizing.
Americans for Immigrant Justice provides legal support for immigrants, including unaccompanied minors, and advocates for policy reforms, does education and outreach work.
Call Your Reps:
Senator Marco Rubio
Senator Rick Scott
Rep. Donna Shalala