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New Report Shows Youth at Homestead Detention Center Likely Exposed to Hazardous Chemicals

Roundtable Discussion on the report to be held September 12  

MIAMI, FL (September 10, 2019) This week, the Homestead-based organization WeCount!, a partner of the American Friends Service Committee, released a shocking report on the potential toxic and noise exposure children faced at the recently closed Homestead detention center, also referred to as an “Emergency Influx Shelter.” The report is available for download here.

On September 12, a roundtable discussion on the report’s implications will take place.

WHO: Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava of the 8th District, WeCount!, and AFSC

WHAT: Roundtable discussion on the Health At Risk report

WHERE: Office of Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava located at the South Dade Government Center 10710 SW 211 Street, Suite 104, Cutler Bay, FL.

WHEN: Thursday Sept. 12 at 2pm

The report documents the fact that the detention center sat less than a mile from eight Superfund “Operable Units,” as well as directly adjacent to the Homestead Air Reserve Base, which flies F-16 fighter jets that generate sound levels unacceptable for human residence.    

According to environmental scientist James Brinkman, "The Homestead Shelter is located within a Superfund site with at least 16 known sources of contamination within two-thirds of a mile from the shelter. In August of 1992, Hurricane Andrew impacted the area and further spread contamination. Given the widespread distribution of contamination around the shelter and the lack of data at the shelter, children housed at the shelter will likely be exposed to unsafe level of hazardous chemicals both in the soil and emanating from the soil and shallow groundwater into the air."  

The report draws on documents and data from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer Center, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, Miami-Dade County, Air Force Reserve Command, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and various news sources.

“According to the EPA, the U.S. Air Force, and Miami-Dade County, the property surrounding the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Alien Children is contaminated and unsuitable for residential use, schools, childcare, or hospitals,” the report reads. “The Shelter is directly adjacent to active Superfund site Operable Units that remain contaminated at levels exceeding what is allowed even for industrial use.”

The Homestead detention center had come under fierce criticism from people across the country since it reopened in 2018. After months of protest and advocacy by the American Friends Service Committee, WeCount!, the Florida Immigration Coalition, and many others, the final children were transferred out in early August. But press reports have suggested the detention center might reopen as soon as October.

“It is critically important that we do everything in our power to keep this detention center from again detaining children – or anyone,” said Lis-Marie, a Program Director with the American Friends Service Committee who helped lead the campaign to close the facility. “We know detention itself harms and traumatizes children. And now we know the land itself is toxic and unsafe.”

The report calls on the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct and release the results of:

  1. Comprehensive soil, groundwater and air sampling at the Shelter, including dormitories, the outdoor play area and tents;
  2. A Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) that takes into account child residents and an exposure scenario that includes time in tents and outdoors and in the event of flooding;
  3. A Noise Risk Assessment (NRA) based on children residents.

Local residents and activists are further calling on the federal government to permanently close the facility, stop using “emergency influx shelters,” and make sure all young people are united with their families and sponsors as quickly as possible.

"Allowing children, youth and workers to return to this toxic environment is a hazard to people and a disrespect to our community of Homestead," said Guadalupe de la Cruz, Lead Organizer with WeCount!

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The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social systems.

WeCount!’s mission is to build the power of the immigrant community in Homestead, Florida through education, support and collective action.