The Homestead detention center has a new name, Biscayne Influx Care Facility and a new coat of paint. But are those the only changes to the place we, with the full support of AFSC Florida, worked so hard to shut down over a year ago?
The AFSC joined forces with dozens of local and national human rights organizations to draw attention to the Trump administration’s abhorrent practice of separating migrant children from their asylum seeking parents at the border, keeping them locked up in huge facilities where they were regimented like prisoners, forbidden to touch one another, even if related.
Quakers in Miami became well acquainted with the trauma the Trump policies caused migrant families because we sponsored a single mother from El Salvador who had been the victim of unspeakable horror and fled with her 11-year-old son with a caravan of asylum seekers who walked most of the way from Central America to the Mexican border. She came to us from a detention facility in California. We witnessed the effect of the trauma which led her to flee from her country and then the torture of being separated from her child, not knowing where he was or if she would ever see him again.
We managed to reunite mother and son and heard his stories of being sent to a foster home in New York where he was told to call the woman of the house “mother.” In Miami, once he was reunited with his mom, he would seldom go anywhere without her and would often stay home from school just to be with her and as if he were trying to make up for the three months they were apart and fearful of never seeing each other again.
Our belief in the divine in each person impels us to stand in solidarity with people choosing life over almost certain death in their homelands. Our faith also impels us to seek “that of God” in the policymakers in the Biden administration who are responsible for the health and welfare of these children.
We have several urgent questions to ask them:
1) Is this facility safe? As a former toxic dump site of military ordnance, have sufficient tests of soil and ground water been made to determine whether it would be putting children’s health at risk to detain them in the facility, even for a short period of time?
2) What precautions have been taken to avoid a COVID outbreak?
3 What is the plan for reuniting them with family or sponsors?
4) In the interim, will they receive professional trauma counseling?
5) Will local human rights groups have access to the children to ensure they are being well-treated and have access to lawyers and potential sponsors?
6) Will they receive an education while detained so they do not fall behind their peers?
7) If they do not speak English or even Spanish, will professional translators be available so they can communicate?
8) Will they be able to communicate regularly with family members or sponsors?
9) Will they be given healthy food to eat?
10) Will siblings be able to comfort one another by human touch?
11) Is there a viable evacuation plan in case of a hurricane?
We insist on answers to these questions before one single child is put in this facility. We insist on complete transparency and that the child’s privacy not be used as an excuse for administrative indifference in their welfare or mismanagement.
We ask these questions because we learned from our experience as witnesses last time that there were major failures in these areas. When we insisted on answers to these questions, we were shunned. But our determination to let U.S. citizens know what was happening brought enormous pressure to close down the operation. Children were loaded into buses in the middle of the night and transferred elsewhere. We never found out where.
We expect the Biden administration to live up to its promise to deal with the immigration of refugees humanely, in accordance with both U.S. and international law, and with a reverence for the human rights of all people who seek life rather than death.
Meanwhile, we will keep watch and continue to bear witness.