Immigrant advocates say the U.S. government is allowing migrant children at a Florida facility to languish in “prisonlike conditions” after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border instead of releasing them promptly to family as required by federal rules.
A court filing Friday revealed conditions inside the Homestead, Florida, facility that has become the nation’s biggest location for detaining immigrant children. A decades-old settlement governing the care of detained immigrant children calls for them to be released to family members, sponsors or other locations within 20 days, but the court filing accuses the government of keeping kids there for months in some cases.
The children detained at the facility said they longed to be released to their parents and other relatives in the United States and were allowed limited phone calls to loved ones. Some were also told to heed strict rules or it could prolong their detention or get them deported.
Volunteers interview dozens of children
“At Homestead, children are housed in prisonlike conditions and unnecessarily incarcerated for up to several months without being determined to be flight risks or a danger to themselves or others,” said the motion filed by the National Center for Youth Law and other organizations in federal court in Los Angeles.
Dozens of volunteer lawyers, interpreters and other legal workers interviewed more than 70 child migrants at Homestead during several visits over the past year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services does not allow news media to speak to children at guided tours of the facility.
A Honduran boy described arriving with an aunt at the Mexico border in December. She was deported and he was sent to Homestead, where he told attorneys he had been held for four months. He could speak to his mother in Honduras twice a week while waiting to be placed with another aunt in Virginia. He was punched in the face by a boy at the facility but said he didn’t see a doctor or tell his mother, out of fear she would worry more. “Already it is very hard. We both cry on the phone,” he told attorneys. “I have not seen my mom or any family for so long.”