Several Democratic 2020 White House hopefuls took turns standing outside of the Homestead migrant shelter in southern Florida last month to criticize the current administration’s immigration practices. The 2020 contenders ranged from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-T.X.), who blasted Homestead’s “prison-like” conditions.
“There weren’t children playing. There weren’t children laughing the way children usually do when they’re moving from one place to another,” Warren said to reporters following her visit to the facility. “These were children who were being marched like little soldiers – like little prisoners – from one place to another. This is not what we should be doing as a country.”
Those accusations dumbfounded volunteers and employees who work at the migrant facility, who described just the opposite. Local pastor Russell Black has been volunteering at the shelter about once a week since its opening in 2015, he said. Black told The Federalist he has been impressed by the conditions and care at the facility and said the children were well-cared for by trained staff and management while being given ample recreation.
“From day one, I was amazed at the care and expense given to the children,” Black said.
One employee at the facility, Melissa, who declined to provide a last name out of concerns of harassment, noted that the children are provided three full meals a day and two snacks. In addition, each child who enters the facility is given a full medical exam to assess his or her mental and physical needs. If a child’s physical needs were too extreme for the facility to handle, he or she was transported to a nearby hospital, all at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.
The Homestead shelter is one of the largest and most controversial migrant detention facilities in the country. Contracted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it is the only facility for illegally entering non-citizen children run by a for-profit company and not directly overseen by the state.
Melissa says there are approximately 1,300 minors currently housed at the facility, with an average waiting period there of 32 days, with 24/7 medical care available to them. Black said it was rare to see the same child at one of his Saturday services after a month or two, noting that while based on individual circumstances, workers at the facility usually had the children out within 30 days.
According to Melissa and Black, children at the facility are being taught in four academic subjects per day and then are given hours of recreational time either outside or indoors in the evenings, depending on the children’s preference. Children also had what Black described as “self-led” talent shows on a fairly regular basis and participated in arts and crafts activities.
In the facility, a youth-care worker is assigned to 6-8 children, according to Black, who is with the kids at all times and is responsible for knowing where each child is and for his or her safety at all times. This is a higher adult-to-child ratio than nearly all states require of licensed daycare facilities for children of school age and of all public school classrooms.
Black, emphasizing that he could only speak to his experience at Homestead and not to other detention facilities, said nothing about Homestead resembled a cage or a “concentration camp,” noting that each child living in the facility is also given his or her own bed and mattress in addition to a hot shower every day.
“I’m very proud of the efforts made to make the time that the children spend in the shelter is as pleasant and brief as possible,” said Black.