Ursula Muñoz Schaefer/Staff Writer
Immigration has become a hot-button issue thanks to chilling reports surrounding child migrant detention centers in Texas and, more recently, Florida.
Despite that, the kids at the facilities aren’t anyone’s priority, especially amongst the 2020 Democratic candidates.
Doctors and lawyers have reported unsanitary and overcrowded facilities at migrant detention camps in Clint, Texas, including a shortage of blankets, food and sanitary items and a terribly mishandled lice infestation where children slept on floors after their mats were confiscated by angry Border Patrol agents.
Texas migrant facilities are not alone in what seems to be an abhorrent treatment of immigrant children. Most recently, controversy rocked the Homestead Detention Center here in Florida when state officials and presidential candidates were denied access.
A for-profit, privately run facility, the Homestead Detention Center serves for when centers like the one in Clint get overcrowded and children have to be transferred.
It’s run by the company Comprehensive Health Services, which is owned by Caliburn International—and it’s not certified in the state of Florida.
There are two federal loopholes that explain why the Homestead shelter is being run so carelessly and why it’s gotten so much attention.
First, the shelter lies on federal land, which explains why it’s not licensed by the state of Florida and why state officials are being denied access. Other than orders from the federal government, there is no oversight.
Second, by calling Homestead an “emergency and temporary influx center,” the federal government does not have to abide by the same national child care standards as “permanent” shelters, which, under the 1997 Flores Agreement, are required to provide children with basic necessities like food, clothing, sanitation and an education plan.
Regardless of how you feel about immigration, the implications of Homestead’s situation are terrifying.
Businesses profiting off of detained children is similar to privately owned prisons making money off of the convicted and incarcerated, and it should ring alarm bells for anyone. Privately owned institutions should not run government facilities, as they raise the possibility of greedy personal interests affecting those with the least amount of legal protection.
The fact that Homestead isn’t required to follow the Flores Agreement and is overseen by an administration that has expressed disgust for immigrants raises many questions about how they are being treated. Barring access to anyone willing to investigate raises more, especially when doctors and immigration lawyers have called the conditions at the facility harsh.
During their stay in Miami in the days leading up to the first Democratic debate, many of the 2020 candidates visited the shelter. Even though they weren’t allowed inside, some of them joined the group of protestors outside the center. California Sen. Kamala Harris vowed to shut down private detention centers as president and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren even climbed an activist’s ladder to check out the facility’s yard and interact with the children.
Democrats seem appalled by our country’s management of the immigration crisis, as demonstrated by the first Democratic debate on Wednesday, June 26. Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, for instance, called the candidates to challenge Section 1325 of the Immigration Nationality Act, while New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker proposed ending Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies and border policies.
Even so, Warren, the most popular candidate in the first debate, remained silent on the question of immigration reform. The topic wasn’t even brought up during the second debate, which included frontrunners Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The detention centers should be everyone’s priority. Children are receiving inhumane treatment thanks to bureaucratic inefficiency that denies them sponsors and forces them to go through case managers without knowing when they’ll be released.
Federal loopholes allow Homestead to keep kids for months, which would be illegal under permanent facilities. Some children staying there have reported kids inflicting self-harm while others describe being put in isolation for eight days at a time. Meanwhile, Caliburn International is making money.
It is important that we press for the shutdown of Homestead and call for the deprivatization of these detention centers. Most importantly, we must ensure that the kids remain at the forefront of our national conversation.
This is not just an immigration issue, but one of basic human rights.
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Featured photo from FIU Flickr.