Witness: Tornillo and Target: Homestead*

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

When we were in El Paso, we visited Tornillo, a tent city that housed unaccompanied and separated children ages 13-17. At its peak, it held around 2,500 children. It closed down while we were there and most of the children were united with their sponsors. Some of the children, however, were sent to another camp in Homestead, Florida which has become the focal point for efforts to eliminate child detention.  Homestead is the largest of the child detention centers and unlike others, is run by a for profit organization and does not have state oversite.

There are numerous reasons why children are held in detention. If they are separated from their parents, come alone or are with an aunt, uncle, cousin, or brother instead of a parent, they are defined as unaccompanied and put in detention. The large number of children in detention was largely due to an administration policy to require every adult in the sponsor’s household to get a background check instead of just the sponsor. Not surprising, some adults refused to get them and the children remained in detention.  That policy has now been rescinded.

There were 3,000 children separated from their parents during the zero tolerance policy of this administration. 2,737 have been reunited but there may be still more children who were separated before the court required the administration to track them and since the ruling to stop separating children.  There is no way to know how many children this represents. Even though this policy of separating children has been banned, over 100 children have been separated since June 2018. Some children may never be reunited with parents or family because there is no way to find the parents who have been deported or the children were given into foster care.

Because Homestead is a “temporary” or “influx” shelter on federal lands, it is not subject to state regulations and inspections intended to guarantee child welfare – only a loose set of Health and Human Services guidelines.  The concern for advocates is that Homestead is a for-profit organization and it is in the best interest of the owner – Comprehensive Health Services, a division of Caliburn International – to house as many children as possible as long as possible (an average of 67 days) with the least amount of services. The time of stay has increased to 89 days during 2019.  This arrangement is also a way to get around the Flores Settlement that limits the amount of time a child may be detained to 20 days. Another downside of keeping the children so long is that if they are in detention when they turn 18, they are immediately taken into ICE custody and deported.

Examples of reduced regulation occur in healthcare and education. In regular children’s shelters, Health and Human Services (HHS) requires a 12 children to 1 clinician to provide mental health care. At Homestead, it’s 20-1. Other detention centers require an educational component with certified teachers. There are also no certified teachers providing any educational programs and the superintendent of schools for the Homestead area has not been contacted.

Currently, HHS spends about $775 per child per day at Homestead. This is compared to other facilities that cost around $276/day. Comprehensive Health Services has been issued state licenses for three permanent shelters in South Texas to hold 500 migrant children for the government.  In an IPO filing last fall, Caliburn International stated that the administration’s “border enforcement and immigration policy…is driving significant growth” for the company.

This problem is only going to grow.  In January, the Customs and Border Protection collected over 5,000 unaccompanied children. As of the middle of February, there were 11,500 children in HHS custody, down from nearly 15,000 last December but nearly 80% higher than the year before.  A bill was recently introduced in congress called the “Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act” (H.R. 1069). This bill prohibits HHS from maintaining and opening any more emergency shelters. This really is an unacceptable situation.  Children need to be with family not in shelters.

*Facebook Group for those wanting to close Homestead

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

11 responses to “Witness: Tornillo and Target: Homestead*

  1. Thank you Barb, for this information. It is heartwarming to know that our Dominican sisters and Sisters of Charity and others are going to these “detention” centers to attend to the needs of these dear children while they are in this Limbo.

  2. Dear Sister Barbara, I was happy to see your face. I have wondered how things were going. God is using you and your many strengths! Hugs, SMS enrichment, Kathi Ligocki

  3. Why don’t you tell the whole truth. Obama had similar rules in effect and you said nothing. This is why I am slowly leaving the Catholic church. These people have broken the law just by coming into the country ILLEGALLY and they have to be vetted to make sure they are not dealing in human trafficking. It’s too bad the children have to suffer, but it is the parents or maybe not the parents but traffickers that are at fault.

    1. Dear Elaine. You are right. There were problems with the Obama practices as well but it is too late to change that. It’s not too late to make a difference now. As a Catholic, I believe in Matthew 25: “What you do for the least of my brothers and sisters you do to Me.” The folks I saw in El Paso were coming as asylum seekers, which is legal both nationally and internationally. They are escaping violence and poverty. Wouldn’t any parent do the same for their children? Minors are also seeking to escape gangs and a hopeless future. How can we, one of the richest nations in the world, deny them that opportunity? I’m sorry that you are leaving the Catholic Church although it is about loving our neighbors even if they are from a different country or religion. Good luck with your search to find God.

        1. Thank Sr. Barb Kane. While I agree with her completely, I thought it more appropriate to have our Justice Promoter pen that response … I just typed it in! 🙂

    2. Just wanted to mention that people who seek asylum and turn themselves in at the border are not really breaking the law. It’s not the same as someone who manages to cross undetected and starts working without proper papers (although I have some sympathy for those as well). Also, it is a misconception that Obama’s policies were the same. Here is an article that quotes several people from his administration on that subject. https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/immigration-border-crisis/fact-check-did-obama-administration-separate-families-n884856

  4. Thanks to Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter.for writing about such horrendous treatment of childres, aged 13 to 17.

  5. Thanks, Barb, for this valuable information. This is really a pro-life issue that needs immediate attention. What a terrible tragedy!

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