Amnesty International Visit to Homestead Facility (April 2, 2019)
On 2 April 2019, a team of Amnesty International (“AI”) researchers visited the temporary influx shelter for unaccompanied children at Homestead, Florida (“Homestead” or “emergency shelter”). AI interviewed Homestead staff and toured the facility. Although AI did not interview children at Homestead, AI observed them in classrooms, the cafeteria, residential areas, common areas, and outside on the grounds.
In addition to the visit to Homestead, Amnesty International visited two nearby permanent shelters for unaccompanied children. AI interviewed staff at each shelter for a total of 4.5 hours, toured the facilities, and interviewed children who had stayed at Homestead in 2018 and 2019 for periods ranging from one day to eight months.
AI observed a stark difference between the permanent, state-licensed shelters and Homestead: the nearby permanent shelters are small-care settings (typically under 100 or 200 children) centered around individualized child care, and are required to follow the 1997 Flores Agreement (“Flores”) standards for permanent shelters and its underlying principle to ensure the best interests of the child. AI is concerned that Homestead places children in a large-scale, highly regimented institutional facility that does not center its care model on what is in the best interests of the child.
Amongst other concerns, AI is gravely concerned that Homestead does not follow the best interests of the child because:
1) the Homestead facility provides care in a large-scale, industrial setting with thousands of children adhering to highly regimented schedules that deprive them of individualized care, attention, and freedom to be children in age-appropriate ways, which in turn creates a sense of being held in secure detention;
2) children are held in custody for prolonged periods of time;
3) the facility provides a sub-standard level of education; and
4) the facility does not ensure adequate privacy for children to report allegations of sexual abuse, nor does it adequately report on allegations of sexual abuse made by unaccompanied children held there.
Amnesty International seeks urgent Congressional oversight of the Homestead influx shelter, to ensure the best interests of unaccompanied children and to ensure that the Flores standards and international human rights standards are met; and that emergency shelters do not become the default standard of care for unaccompanied children.
Amnesty International calls on the Trump Administration to close Homestead as quickly as possible and to prioritize funding for permanent, small-care, state-licensed facilities that comply with Flores and international human rights standards, where unaccompanied can be placed before they are released to sponsors as expeditiously as possible.
• Congress should increase oversight over the emergency shelter system, and the Homestead temporary influx care facility, to demand greater accountability for providing a safe environment for unaccompanied children and care based on the best interests of the child. As part of its oversight, relevant committees in both the House and Senate should urgently conduct public hearings on the conditions at the Homestead temporary influx care facility, as well as review the extended usage of such emergency shelters since January 2018.
• The Administration should move to close the Homestead temporary influx care facility as soon as possible, and Congress should prioritize funding for permanent, small-scale, state-licensed facilities that comply with the Flores standards and international human rights standards and are more appropriate settings for children.
• As the Administration moves to close the Homestead temporary influx care facility, the facility should be held to the standards outlined in Flores that all permanent shelters must follow and should be licensed by the state of Florida. It must also adhere to human rights standards governing the best interests of the child, the custody and detention of children, and children’s rights.
• The Administration and Congress should provide the resources and adequate staffing support to ensure that children are placed with appropriate sponsors as quickly as possible. The information-sharing agreement between ORR and DHS should be rescinded immediately. Whenever possible, all effort should be made to place unaccompanied children as close to their potential sponsors as possible.
For additional information on research findings, please contact Brian Griffey, Regional Researcher/Advisor (USA/Canada), [email protected], and Denise Bell, Researcher, Refugee and Migrant Rights, [email protected]. For advocacy or government relations questions, please contact Ryan Mace, Grassroots Advocacy & Refugee Specialist, [email protected].