by Alessandra Mondolfi

Over the last few months, I have found myself at the “Homestead For-Profit Migrant Child Prison” (aka Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children) as often as I am able to. When I am not there, I am back at my place working on art and visuals to support the cause of shutting that place down.

Photo credit: Lateef M. Osahar

I am part of a witnessing group who has been outside of the 8-foot tall fences of the main facility where the innocent 13-16 year old children are detained. May 21stmarked the 100th day of our action.

Witnessing was a completely foreign concept to me. I have been involved in activism from a creative perspective for several years. I’ve participated in countless protests, rallies and marches but this is different and I have been thinking about it a lot. We have built a foundation that welcomes protests and events but that holds at its core the concept of sustaining a daily presence that seeks to find and expose truth.  

Homestead re-opened in 2018 in response to this administration’s Zero Tolerance policy. It is currently the only detention facility that sits on federal land, which means that  they don’t have to comply with state regulations. When we began witnessing in February of 2019, they held a little over a thousand kids. Now there are over 3,000.

We’re there to witness and gather facts. We’ve chronicled the expansion, noted all the companies doing business with the facility. We’ve documented the supplies being delivered and where they’re coming from. We’ve protested at job fairs, and exposed the abusive language included in the job postings. Additionally, being on the ground on a daily basis allows us to provide a counter narrative when media shows up to cover the story.

At first we documented vans transporting small groups of children and then later, busses with kids arriving in the middle of the night. Due to pressure from us, one of those contracts got cancelled. Now they’re bringing the kids by bus loads during the day. We record who’s coming and going, and engage employees when they arrive and leave work, to plead with them to think about what they’re doing. But these are high paying jobs in an area where not a lot of jobs exist.

Photo credit: Tina Marie Davidson

We exposed John Kelly touring Homestead on a golf cart a few days before three Congresswomen were denied access to the center. Soon after, reports surfaced that he recently joined Caliburn's board of directors.

We’ve had family members show up in tears looking for their children only to be turned away by officials. We try to help them.

Homestead is referred to as a “temporary influx shelter for unaccompanied minors.” According to the Flores Settlement Agreement the kids aren’t supposed to be held more than 20 days, but some have been here for nine months. What’s happening here is completely illegal and they know it. That's why they are now trying to challenge that with a bill designed to increase the number of days to 100.

The administration claims the children are unaccompanied minors. They are not! A majority of them arrive at a legal point of entry with a family member seeking asylum. These family members can be grandparents, siblings, aunts or cousins. Some of the children carry a phone number of someone who is willing to care for them. Do not be fooled: this administration is still separating families. Homestead is entirely a for-profit operation. They receive $775 per child per day while other shelters get compensated around $250 per child per day.  It’s money in the bank. They have no incentive to release or reunite any of these kids with their families.

Since the number of kids at the facility has tripled, we wonder where they are putting them. When there were 1,350, we heard reports that they were “crammed in like sardines”. They sleep in hard shelters and there are tents for showering and dining, and they have access to a soccer field and basketball court. They’re allowed outside for a limited time each day. We question things such as their emergency evacuation plan, as hurricane season is fast approaching.

Another thing we do is visit the children. We get on stepladders, blow kisses to them and wave signs over the fence. We want to let them know that they are not alone and that we are fighting for them. When they turn 17 they’re transported to a different area – further back where the fences are much higher, so we aren’t able to establish contact with them. On Mother’s Day we had about 300 protesters there. We chanted at the top of our lungs “No Estan Solos” and we hope they heard us and let others know we were there.

When these innocent minors turn 18 they are taken out, shackled in 3 point restraints, and transported to adult detention centers, either Broward Transitional Center or Krome Detention Center.

The officials at Homestead tell the kids we are paid protesters who are trying to shut down the facility so that they’ll get deported. From day one the administration has been adversarial – and becoming more so. It’s a battleground. They call the cops on us and make allegations that are completely untrue. They lie about the boundary between federal ground and county ground and where we’re allowed to stand. They verbally assault and insult us on a daily basis. We even had a couple people detained, one by the Miami-Dade Police and one by Homeland Security.

It’s emotionally brutal and you’d think after 3 months I‘d become desensitized but I cry my eyes out every single night.

There is so much more I could tell you, but I will conclude by saying that people must get involved. This place demands that everyone speak up. People come here to witness for an hour, a day or a for a week. If you come here, I promise you’ll be changed forever.

If you can’t be here in person, you can help by spreading the word and signing this petition

You can also contact your representatives and ask them to co-sponsor these bicameral bills:

- Kamala Harris - S. 388: Families Not Facilities Act

- Debbie Wasserman Schultz - H.R. 2217: Families, Not Facilities Act

- Jeff Merkley S.397 - Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act

- Judy Chu - H.R.1069 - Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act

And follow the group updates.

We must put an end to child detention in this country!