Amnesty International USA this week released a harrowing report on the conditions at the Homestead facility, which houses children who have traveled alone to the U.S. in search of safety. Its top finding? Homestead violates this nation’s human rights obligations and must be shut down immediately.
A few background facts: When children migrate to the U.S. without a parent, they receive certain legal protections in recognition of their unique vulnerabilities. They are also put in the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which operates a network of 168 facilities where children are held while they wait to be reunited with their families. Homestead is a “temporary emergency” shelter that is part of the ORR network.
Homestead is a “temporary” shelter in name only. It has been open since March 2018, and conditions are far more like a prison than a shelter or place of refuge. Amnesty International investigators found an impersonal, industrial and highly restrictive setting where children must wear ID badges with barcodes, sleep in barrack-style housing, follow chalked lines when moving from place to place and follow a strict schedule. At the height of its operation, Homestead held a jaw-dropping 2,500 children.
Many children arrive at Homestead after making a long, dangerous journey to the U.S. They deserve individualized attention, trauma-informed care and the freedom to act like children while responsible adults work quickly to reunite them with their families. They deserve a home. “Homestead is not a home for children,” said Denise Bell, researcher for refugee and migrant rights and Amnesty International USA. “Homestead is an industrial line for processing mass numbers of children, instead of focusing on their best interests. The message from this administration is clear: if children come to the US fleeing for their lives, the government will lock them up and make it as difficult as possible to secure their release.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. This administration’s practice of routinely detaining immigrant children does not have to be the norm. Incarceration is not only unnecessary, it is unprecedented in our historic asylum practice. We can prioritize children over the private prison industry and promote safer, more humane policies that place children in community-centered care as they await reunions. Homestead – and other facilities that detain children – must be closed.