“You can’t give a friend a hug”: The alleged prison-like conditions at the largest U.S. migrant children’s shelter
Produced by Alexander Stockton and Mimi Dwyer
VICE News Tonight on HBO
One kid at the nation's largest shelter for unaccompanied migrant children said he went over a month with a broken nose without being examined by a doctor. Another said he was vaccinated nine times immediately after arriving — but he was never told why.
Another child at the facility, located in Homestead, Florida, said they’d have to write their name on a piece of paper to schedule bathroom breaks. And if they wrote their name too many times, they might not be allowed to go.
Attorneys for the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law filed a motion Friday that alleges “prison-like” conditions and questionable medical treatment at the facility. In addition to alleging violations of acceptable standards of care, the motion also accuses the facility and its operator Caliburn International of systematically holding children longer than allowed.
“That is a situation that we think is intolerable,” Peter Schey, one of the lawyers who filed the motion, told VICE News. “We think the court needs to intervene and either shut the place down or force the government to keep children there for no longer than one to one or two weeks, or alternatively force that facility to get a license.”
A 1997 rule called the Flores Settlement Agreement states that migrant children can remain in restrictive government facilities for a maximum of 20 days before being released or transferred to a licensed shelter. It’s the backbone of migrant children’s rights in the U.S.
At least one child had been detained for 140 days at the Florida facility, according to the filing. Six children have at some point been at the facility for more than a year, according to government data provided to and analyzed by the attorneys. The most recent government data puts the average length of stay for children released from Homestead last month at 35 days — longer than allowed under Flores.
As part of the motion filed Friday, Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law and its affiliates interviewed 60 minors who described their experiences at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, the population of which has ballooned as a result of the unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors arriving to the U.S.
The motion is an attempt to apply Flores in broader and strengthened ways at Homestead. But the government has argued that facilities like Homestead can be exempted from some Flores rules, in part because they’re on federal land. That conflict will now be examined in court.
The Trump administration has also called for overturning Flores altogether. Doing so would allow the administration to hold children and families for longer periods, or indefinitely.