Here’s how community members and allies are working to close the nation’s largest detention center for migrant children.
By Ronna Bolante
On Mother’s Day, hundreds of people took part in a protest organized by AFSC and partners outside of the detention center for migrant children in Homestead, Florida. For hours, the crowd chanted and held signs, showing solidarity with the nearly 3,000 migrant children being held in the facility.
"Los vemos. Los queremos. Estamos con ustedes," the protesters cried out over the fence.
"We see you. We love you. We are on your side."
The children, some of whom were outside in the detention center courtyard, called back to the crowd—until they were ushered back inside the facility by guards.
The Mother’s Day protest was just one piece of AFSC’s ongoing work to shut down Homestead detention center—and push for an end to child detention. “Children belong in schools and homes, not in prison camps,” says Kristin Kumpf, director of Human Migration and Mobility for AFSC. “But today, the Trump administration is manufacturing the need to detain children as part of its anti-immigrant agenda. It’s time to close down Homestead detention center for good and unite these children with their family members and sponsors.”
What's happening in Homestead?
Homestead detention center is the largest detention site for migrant children in the U.S. The facility is a jail for kids—surrounded by high walls and sitting on property that’s part of the Air Reserve Base. Children sleep in numbered bunk beds in large military-like rooms that can hold up to 250 people. They’re prohibited from leaving the compound, closely monitored by guards, told when to eat and sleep, and aren’t allowed to hug anyone—even their own siblings.
Most of these detained children have fled violence and poverty in Central America and are seeking asylum in the United States. Many were separated from their family members or relatives after crossing into the U.S.
But instead of being released to family members or other sponsors as they await hearings on their cases, many of these children will spend weeks or months at Homestead detention center— which is overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“Detention has lasting traumatic effects and harms both children and adults,” says Mariana Martinez, an organizer with AFSC and a resident of Homestead. “The costs are incalculable to children, families, and our communities.”
Because Homestead is “an emergency influx center,” these children are not protected by federal agreements that regulate the length of time and conditions under which the U.S. can detain children. And since Homestead detention center has no state supervision, it’s unclear whether children are receiving adequate education or mental health services.
What’s more, it’s estimated that Homestead costs taxpayers $500,000 a day to operate—and companies are benefiting. The detention center is managed by Caliburn International, which drew widespread criticism when former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly joined its board in May.
Organizing against child detention
Since the start of this year, AFSC and other national partners have provided support to Homestead community members and local organizations working to shut down the detention center.
Together, we’re calling on ORR and HHS to close the detention center and stop using emergency influx facilities—and work as quickly as possible to unite children with their sponsors. We’re also demanding these agencies stop collaborating with the Department of Homeland Security, because coordination between agencies has led to the criminalization and intimidation of family members and other sponsors of these children, resulting in longer detention times.
The campaign to shut down Homestead detention center has made national headlines and garnered support from several Florida members of Congress, who’ve introduced legislation that would meet these demands.
In just the past six months, AFSC and campaign partners have:
- Generated more than 115,000 signatures for a petition to ORR and HHS.
- Organized a national Week of Action to End Child Detention that culminated on Father’s Day, when hundreds of people from Florida and across the country converged in a mass protest in Homestead.
- Engaged children and young people from around the U.S. to write letters to their members of Congress.
“Our coalition has organized press conferences and multiple actions at Homestead detention center to keep this issue front and center—to let everyone know that our community members will not stand idly by as this atrocity continues,” Mariana says.
Shutting down the detention center is deeply personal for Mariana, who grew up in Homestead—an agricultural town just 30 miles south of Miami with long stretches of corn and tomato fields. The area is home to a large African-American population and a growing number of immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean. Mariana’s father, Herman, was an organizer with AFSC over a decade ago, working with immigrant right groups in Homestead at a time when immigration reform protests were taking place across the country.
“Detaining immigrants—especially children—should not be happening in Homestead or in any community,” Mariana says. “Detention funnels money to private corporations and tears apart families and communities. The people of Homestead don’t want an economy based in the abuse of children. We want investment in jobs that bring sustainability and resources.”
How you can help
“It’s important to remember that the campaign to shut down Homestead detention center is part of a larger movement to end the detention and deportation of all immigrants—children and adults—and demand policies that respect the rights and humanity of all people,” says Lis-Marie Alvarado, AFSC organizing coordinator in Florida.
In Florida, allies and faith organizations like the Miami Friends Meeting have stood with immigrants to raise awareness in their state and beyond and to pressure policymakers to end child detention.
Here’s how you can support their efforts. Visit afsc.org/migrantjustice to:
Urge them to do everything in their power to shut down Homestead detention center and work to end child detention, including passing legislation like the Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act and Families Not Facilities Act.
Get social media graphics, posters, and other resources to educate family and friends and engage them in work to end immigrant detention.
Make a donation to support AFSC’s work to protect human rights and overcome injustice—in Homestead and beyond.