At its peak, the Homestead detention center in Miami held about 3,000 kids inside its fences, making it the nation's largest for-profit influx shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children. The site, technically a "temporary" shelter that nonetheless housed hundreds of children for months on end, became a symbol of the Trump administration's failures to address the ongoing humanitarian emergency at the southern border. Visitors allowed to observe the facility reported that children were "crammed" into noisy tents and forbidden to listen to music or keep a journal. Privacy was nonexistent. Some detainees, according to The New York Times, admitted to having suicidal thoughts.
Over the summer, federal authorities cleared the place out, relocating detainees to other shelters scattered across the country as south Florida entered hurricane season. The facility itself, however, remains open on a reduced-capacity basis, with about 1,200 available beds and a skeleton crew of support staff. And for the privilege of keeping Homestead's doors open and its $600-a-night beds empty in this manner, American taxpayers are still paying about $720,000 every day.
This all according to Jonathan Hayes, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), during a congressional hearing on Wednesday. Under questioning from Wisconsin Democratic representative Mark Pocan, Hayes explained that the facility remains "fully active" to accommodate a hypothetical emergency influx of children requiring shelter, since it would need between 90 and 120 days to reopen if it were to shut all the way down. Officials have previously cautioned that they anticipate an increase in the number of referrals this fall. In the meantime, the government has spent some $33 million since early August for, as Pocan put it, 1,200 "invisible, imaginary, nonexistent human beings" to not stay in Homestead anymore.
The hearing's focus was on the mental-health care—or lack thereof—that the government is providing to immigrant children in its custody. Earlier this month, investigators in the HHS Office of Inspector General reported on the government's struggles to address the trauma experienced by young refugees fleeing violence in their home countries. Facilities required to maintain a 12:1 ratio of mental-health clinicians to children suddenly reported ratios of 25:1 and above, and the fallout from the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy created an entirely new set of challenges for already overworked counselors. From the report:
Children who did not understand why they were separated from their parents suffered elevated levels of mental distress. For example, program directors and mental health clinicians reported that children who believed their parents had abandoned them were angry and confused. Other children expressed feelings of fear or guilt and became concerned for their parents’ welfare.
One medical director recalled a child describing their pain as follows: "Every heartbeat hurts."
Part of Pocan's objections to this Homestead arrangement stems from the fact that former Homeland Security secretary and White House chief of staff John Kelly sits on the board of advisers for Caliburn International, a military contractor that runs Homestead through a subsidiary. (You may remember that Kelly's move was announced about a month after protestors spotted him entering the facility grounds on a golf cart.) As the Miami Herald reported earlier this year, Caliburn received a no-bid contract worth up to $341 million to run Homestead around the same time Kelly joined it, which means Kelly is now profiting off the very same immigration crisis his leadership helped create.
As Congressman Pocan put it, the nightly rate one might expect to pay at a Trump-branded hotel is now the going rate to pay a private company to house a nonexistent child.
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Originally Appeared on GQ