Wasserman Schultz Statement on Homestead Child Detention Facility’s Continued Expansion

"Exploding the child detention population at a facility that is already inadequately staffed and regulated is cruel, irresponsible and invites neglect."

(Washington D.C.) – Trump Administration officials announced Monday that they will, for the second time this year, dramatically expand the number of beds at the temporary detention facility located in Homestead, Florida, where unaccompanied immigrant youth are being held.

In January federal officials announced plans to expand the Homestead facility from 1,350 beds to 2,350 beds. This week, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families announced a plan to expand bed capacity again at the temporary influx shelter in Homestead, from 2,350 to 3,200 later this month. That would mark a 140 percent increase in child bed capacity in just four months.

“Exploding the child detention population at a facility that is already inadequately staffed and regulated is cruel, irresponsible and invites neglect,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Children fleeing persecution at home are already forced to stay at Homestead too long, and lack adequate educational resources. This facility lacks translators for the indigenous youth at Homestead, preventing them not only from communication with staff but also with each other – increasingly isolating them in an already isolating environment. Many of these problems stem from Homestead being classified as a temporary influx facility – which leads to inconsistent educational resources and lack of necessary services like adequate translation, while also shielding Homestead from state regulation and compliance with the 1997 Flores Settlement.

“What makes this expansion particularly egregious is that this administration has intentionally created a chilling effect on potential sponsors. The Office of Refugee Resettlement is mandated to send all fingerprint information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some undocumented family members are too terrified to come forward as sponsors for these young people at Homestead, for fear of arrest or other harsh reprisals by this immoral and deceitful Administration.

“Instead of expanding Homestead, we need to swiftly adopt policies that speed up release and reunifications, promote sponsors to come forward without fear of legal repercussions, and ensure adequate staffing and resources for young people. The longer solution is passing sensible immigration reform.”

The National Center for Youth Law reports that in 2018 the population of children in ORR custody climbed by 97 percent, a historic high, despite the number of children arriving at the U.S. border remaining relatively comparable to past years. Meanwhile ICE has arrested dozens of undocumented immigrants who came forward to sponsor undocumented children. These arrests were made as a result of the Trump Administration’s decision to have the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) share information with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the purpose of immigration enforcement – information sharing that is not necessary to ensure the welfare of the children.

Last year Wasserman Schultz introduced the Prevent Cruel Handling of Information Leading to Deportation Harm Act, or the Prevent CHILD Harm Act, which would prohibit DHS from using information gained from the sponsor placement process to conduct deportation proceedings, except in cases of trafficking, abuse, or neglect.  It would also return to the previous policy of not taking potential sponsors’ immigration status into account in making sponsor determination — because the best interests of children must come first. The Congresswoman will introduce similar legislation soon to address this growing problem.

“Trump’s punishing, ignorant policies inflict immense suffering on immigrant families and children, all while squandering taxpayer funds,” Wasserman Schultz said. “The ever-expanding Homestead facility represents the swelling pain and waste that Trump’s nativist immigration policies mete out every day."