With Special Thanks to Board Member and Regular Witness Debbie Wehking

Homestead Detention Center Information and Witnessing Guide


© Carrie Feit  


o   DHS– U.S. Department of Homeland Security

o   HHS – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

o   ORR – Office of Refugee Resettlement – part of HHS

o   CBP – Custom and Border Protection – part of Homeland Security

o   ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement – part of Homeland Security

o   SPLC – Southern Poverty Law Center

The Facility

The Homestead Temporary Influx Care Facility[1] (“Homestead”) is located on the grounds of Homestead Air Reserve Base in a former Job Corps Facility.a ORR has periodically opened Homestead as a temporary emergency influx shelter since at least 2016.a Homestead is the only “temporary” shelter among the more than 100 shelters for which ORR is responsible.b  Children ages 13 – 17 are sent to Homestead directly from the border once CBP processes them.b  According to ORR, these are children below the age of eighteen who entered the country without their parent or legal guardian or who for other reasons have been separated from their parent or legal guardian.a 

Homestead is a secure facility, surrounded by an 8’ chain link fence with a privacy covering. Entrance and exits are blocked by fences and gates are staffed by security personnel.  Children understand that they are not free to leave, and have been told that they will be arrested by local police and ICE and deported if they do. Even talking about leaving is thought to be a violation of the rules for which children believe they will be stepped-up to a more restrictive facility.f

Children who are seeking humanitarian protection from the U.S. are detained at Homestead to await unification with a sponsor, a family member or family friend, who can house them while they wait for an asylum hearing.b   ORR’s categorization as a “temporary” and “emergency” influx center seeks to avoid state and local licensure and related compliance with state welfare, education and other minimum standards, however, such non-compliance violates the Flores Agreement, which does not permit children to be detained in unlicensed facilities merely because they are on federal properties.”f ORR deems the licensed facilities in their network full when they are at 85% capacity and sends children to Homestead in that instance, which is about double the cost of placement in a licensed facility.f Instead of expeditiously transferring minors to licensed unsecure facilities as required by the Flores Agreement, minors are detained at Homestead (a secure prison-like facility) until either they are either released to a sponsor or deported or “age out” and transferred to an ICE facility for deportation.f The average stay at Homestead is 67 days, and some children are there for several months.a,b  Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in one visit to the facility interviewed a child that had been there for 9 months.[2]  In a 2017 Order in the Flores case, Judge Dolly Gee held that detainment exceeding 20 days in an influx facility notwithstanding the emergency influx exception demonstrated substantial non-compliance with the Flores Agreement[3], and a Motion filed in the Flores case at the end of May 2019 (“Flores Motion”) asks the Court to release children to sponsors or transfer them to licensed facilities within such 20-day period accordingly.f 

Homestead Director Leslie Wood stated that the increasingly long stays are due in large part to an ORR policy implemented in June 2018 requiring additional background screening and vetting of potential sponsors and family members. She also cited new ORR requirements that all members of sponsor families be fingerprinted and undergo a background check prior to placement.a  The Flores Motion confirms such policy and reveals that it includes sharing all such identification documentation of all the people in the sponsor family’s household with federal, state and local law enforcement entities including ICE, DHS and the Department of Justice and that such agencies can use this information to pursue immigration and criminal investigation.f  Such policy goes well beyond the “suitability assessment” allowed under the Flores Agreement, violates the Agreement’s requirement to make prompt and continuous efforts toward family reunification, and not surprisingly has led to “the arrest of numerous potential sponsors and the deter[rent of] others, adding to the unreasonable length of time class members are detained in a prison-like camp at Homestead.f  In February 2019 Congress passed an Appropriations Bill to curb this practice, but ORR’s policy remains unchanged in violation of federal law.f  ORR also delays release by requiring the sponsor family to furnish the minor’s birth certificate or a copy thereof which also far exceeds the Flores Agreement requirements for release of custody with regard to “Proof of Identity”.f

Children report similar stories of confusion as to why they are not yet released to their family members, having heard that their case-workers, who change frequently, were waiting for outstanding documents such as a birth certificate or fingerprints from uncles/brothers/aunts or even parents in the case of family separation (that took place in 2018), that the process should only take a couple more weeks even though it had been several months since they heard the same, that their case has not been started or delayed with no reason provided, or that they could not be released to the sponsor family because the minor did have any photos with him/herself and the family member together, or because the sponsor was not a biological family member or did not share the same last name as the minor.f

Amnesty International describes the operation of Homestead as having a profoundly rigid, almost military precision level of control.b Every part of the day is regimented, starting at 6:30am and ending at 10:00pm with “lights out.”b Each child wears an ID badge with a barcode around their neck at all times, which must be scanned every time they enter a building or a tent. They are moved from place to place in single-file lines.b   Disability Rights Florida similarly reported that the facility was operated in a “highly regimented military fashion” and that “the daily routine for the children is very structured and children were moved around the grounds in single-file lines escorted closely by staff.”a   Children reported that they are not allowed to talk to each other once they are in their bedroom areas or when moving from one area to another, they have very limited opportunity to interact with other children beyond their housing group, and that even siblings are limited to once per week supervised meetings if they have been separated into different housing groups.”a  Children have reported they need a guard and/or permission to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water and that the doors are always locked.f  Children also report that they are not allowed to touch each other let alone hug even “when your friend is crying because they can’t stand being here any longer”; that they cannot sit on one another’s beds or do each other’s hair or trade clothes; that they have 15 minutes to eat (and cannot bring food to the bunk room); and that they are always being watched and fear getting a “report” which they are told will result in more time at Homestead or deportation.f  Upon arriving, children are told about the zero tolerance policy for touching (even of a sibling or when saying goodbye to a friend who is leaving the shelter); taking longer than 5 minutes to shower;  looking at or talking to a member of the opposite sex; and failing to finish their food.f 

The facility’s capacity has been or is increasing from 1,350 to 2,350, to 3,200 children. To manage this number of teen-aged children, the following procedures are in place:

  • Some children have no in-person case manager and thus Skype off-site with case managers and clinicians in El Paso, Texas.b
  • Previously HHS required a clinician-to-child ratio of 1 to 12 to provide mental health services.  That has been relaxed to 1 to 20.c
  • A service form is required for basic services, including access to an attorney and requesting sanitary napkins. b

Accommodations. The 13-16 year olds sleep on the South side of the facility in dormitories that sleep 434 children, 12 to a room, in bunk beds.f   Sleeping areas are large rooms divided in the middle by a shared toilet/shower and the doors to the rooms have all been removed.a At night, a staff member is seated in the doorway as a monitor.a Each child is provided with a plastic storage box for their belongings and children are expected to assist in the cleaning of their living/ sleeping area.a Common areas in the dorms have a TV and a few seats or couches.a There are cameras in common areas but not in bedrooms or bathrooms.a   The 17-year old boys sleep in large, long “bays” with 144 beds each on the North side of the facility.c  One such bay is situated in a cavernous room that appears to have been an airplane hangar with an enormous and very loud built-in fan that runs constantly necessitating the children who are closest to the fan to sleep with an extra blanket pulled over their heads in order to contend with the noise and the constant draft the fan creates.f   The communal bathroom for this enormous sleeping area is accessed through a single door located in the back of the room and down a hallway, and has showers, and portable toilets.f According to medical experts, the unsanitary condition of the bathroom area and the incessant and deafening noise of the fan are clear health hazards.f

Former auditorium converted into housing units.  Image from Monitoring Report: Homestead Emergency Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, Disability Rights Florida, April 25, 2019

Food.  Homestead provides three meals and two snacks to each child per day. There is no commissary for children to obtain their own snacks. The quality and type of food provided was a frequent complaint by children during interviews with Disability Rights Florida.a

Education.  Children were attending school Monday – Friday for about six hours per day.a All of the teachers are CHS employees and CHS does not require teachers to be state certified.a[4] The school curriculum which was developed by CHS does not follow Florida state standards.  Classrooms were located in a large air-conditioned tent partitioned into classrooms. Due to the partitions not reaching the tent ceilings and the noise of over 2000 children, the children reported not being able to hear the teachers.f There were no text books and children reported that teaching usually involved the teachers writing a lesson on a large whiteboard for the children to copy.a None of the children reported having homework or other out of class assignments.a The Director stated that Dade County Schools offered to provide educational services but CHS declined because of issues including the year-round school requirement.a   On June 5, 2019, the Trump administration cancelled education, recreation and legal aid for migrants in U.S. shelters, citing budget pressures and deeming such “activities… not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety...”[5] 

Visitation/Communication.  Children are permitted visitors once per week.a However, the Flores investigators reported that children are unaware that they can have visitors and that the discouraging extensive rules regarding visits has the result of phone calls being the only outside contact.f Children stated they have access to phones twice per week to speak with family members and are limited to ten minutes per call.a They very much want more time, which is split amongst siblings or family members if they want to call more than one.f  The time limit is enforced even in unusual circumstances such as a death in the immediate family and the phone call cap is enforced even if it results in a child not being able to call family on their birthday.f  Children do not have privacy during the phone calls.a Phones with direct lines to consulates and abuse hotlines are located in common areas. However, children report they are not allowed to use these phones and must report incidents to staff who dial the phone for them.a Children who do not speak English or Spanish are unable to communicate with staff or any other children and are reported by other children to be some of the most sad and lonely residents.f

Exercise/Recreation: Children at Homestead have access to two dirt fields used for soccer and a small basketball area that are insufficient to accommodate the exercise needs of the amount of children being held at Homestead.f  Witnesses have observed the children playing soccer and the enjoyment expressed by some when doing the same.  On June 5, 2019, the Trump administration cancelled education, recreation and legal aid for migrants in U.S. shelters, citing budget pressures and deeming such “activities… not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety...”[6] Since such activities were cut, Witnesses have in fact observed limited soccer at Homestead.

Miscellaneous Information from the Flores Motion:f  Children have reported that there are minors who do not have family in the United States and fear they will be at Homestead forever and thus cry all night, and that there have been incidences of children cutting themselves and that any sharp objects are thus taken away. 18-year olds are kept in solitary confinement  - windowless rooms with no bathrooms and 4 beds with nothing more - while waiting for transfer to an ICE facility.  Homestead reported these new non-minors who must be separated from minors are not allowed outside of such room but they are there no longer than 2 days.

Concerns of Visiting Organizations (based on visits by Amnesty International and Disability Rights Florida in April 2019 and August 2018, respectively)

“Amongst other concerns, [Amnesty International] 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.”e

Disability Rights Florida expressed significant concerns in connection with 1) overcrowding; 2) basic educational services; 3) IDEA education services; 4) mental health services; and 5) informed consent.  DRF recommended immediate transfer of the children out of Homestead to more appropriate licensed settings.  “It is widely acknowledged that a large percentage of the children detained in ORR facilities have suffered significant trauma and may require appropriate mental health care. Homestead, with a population of over 1300 children at the time of our visit, cannot possibly meet their needs. Subjecting these children to the overcrowded and impersonal conditions at Homestead for extended periods of time will only exacerbate these issues and may be a form of abuse and neglect in and of itself… Subjecting vulnerable children to the conditions at Homestead for this length of time is simply unacceptable.”a   It is notable that the facility is currently estimated to hold nearly 3000 children.

Follow the Money

Homestead is run by Comprehensive Health Services, Inc., a private, for-profit company.c  Its parent company is Caliburn International.  In April 2019 it was discovered that former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was on the Board of Caliburn.[7] The same month CHS/Caliburn was awarded a no-bid extension of their contract to run Homestead through November for $341 million dollars.[8]  The contract stipulates they will receive $775 per child per day.[9] Homestead was recently directed to increase capacity to 3,200 children.[10]  With 3,200 children at Homestead, taxpayers will be spending $2.48 million dollars per day to detain children.

© Carrie Feit

Our Guide to Bearing Witness

We need more eyes to watch what is happening.  Here, simply observing is resisting.  The government wants to keep child imprisonment at Homestead a secret. Sharing our experience with our community and world is vital to accomplishing our mission of closing Homestead Detention Center and seeing the children in #HomesInstead.

Drive South to 920 Bougainville Boulevard any day of the week.  Witnesses are always there from 9:30am to 4:30pm.  You'll see our blue canopy shelters on the corner of SW 288th Street and SW 124th Avenue Road - directly across the street from the main entrance.  Bring sunscreen, a hat and water.  We have signs.  We try to have enough witnesses to have someone on each of the four corners of that intersection during shift change so we can hold signs as one shift is arriving and another is leaving. This process takes at least an hour, sometimes longer.  

© Carrie Feit

The early shift sets up traffic cones to keep employees from parking in our space, canopies on the two shelters, our banners, and our step ladders for witnessing over the fence to see the kids.  When they wave back at you, you'll be amazed at how it warms your heart, and it you will realize that this atrocity is actually happening.

Keep your eyes open all the time.  Some of the things we have seen that we might never have known about if there were no witnesses are:

  • The arrival of children, presumably from the airport, in vans, at various times throughout the day.
  • Large chartered bus arrivals - up to 3 at a time -  filled with the children.  The first time we saw them coming in by the busload, the guards quickly closed the gate to thwart our view. but witnesses could see the silhouettes of the children standing on the other side of the fence.
  • Children being shackled and taken away on their 18th birthdays to an adult prison and youth care workers assisting that transfer wiping tears from their eyes.
  • A woman who drove up in her car and asked, "Is this where the children are?" because her 17 year-old nephew had traveled from Honduras to El Paso where he was picked up and brought to Homestead.  The guards had answered her question by saying "I'm not allowed to answer that."  We talked to her and helped her to process everything she was learning and kept in touch with her.

Here is a handy app for you to sign up to witness.  See you there! https://www.signupgenius.com/go/4090d4ba8afca7fc1-witness


© Carrie Feit


a Monitoring Report: Homestead Emergency Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, Disability Rights Florida, April 25, 2019, http://www.disabilityrightsflorida.org/documents/Homestead_Monitoring_Report_4-12-19.pdf

bAmnesty visited the only temporary influx shelter for unaccompanied children seeking safety in the U.S.  This is what we saw, Ashley Houghton, Tactical Campaigns Manager, Amnesty International, April 9, 2019, https://medium.com/@amnestyusa/amnesty-visited-the-only-temporary-influx-shelter-for-unaccompanied-children-seeking-safety-in-the-4a9357d07b37

cFirst stop for migrant kids:  For-profit detention center, Yeganeh Torbati, Kristina Cooke, Reuters, February 14, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-children/first-stop-for-migrant-kids-for-profit-detention-center-idUSKCN1Q3261

dKids in Miami Migrant Camp Used as “Bait” to Catch Adult Sponsors, Civil Rights Groups Says in Lawsuit, Jerry Iannellif, Miami New Times, January 28, 2019, https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/homestead-miami-migrant-camp-children-used-as-bait-splc-says-in-lawsuit-11062606

eAdvocacy Brief, Amnesty International Visit to Homestead Facility, April 16, 2019, https://www.amnestyusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/20190416-Homestead-Advocacy-Brief_.pdf

f Plaintiff’s Motion to Enforce Flores Settlement Agreement and Declarations filed on May 31, 2019 in  Flores v. Barr, No. 85-cv-4544 (C.D. Ca 1985).

Created by,

Carrie Feit

Executive Board Member, Women’s March Florida

President, Women’s March Miami

Debbie Wehking

Treasurer/Board Member, Women’s March Miami

For questions, email carrie@womensmarchfl.org

[1] ORR gives this definition of “Influx Care Facility:” “A type of care provider facility that is opened to provide temporary emergency shelter and services for unaccompanied alien children during an influx or emergency. Influx care facilities may be opened on Federally owned or leased properties, in which case, the facility would not be subject to State or local licensing standards; or, at facilities otherwise exempted by the State licensing authority.” https://www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/resource/children-entering-the-united-states-unaccompanied-guide-to-terms#Shelter%20Care  

[2] WPLG Local 10, April 7, 2019,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQdy8466ItA

[3] https://www.aila.org/File/Related/14111359v.pdf

[4] Although a recent job ad states that “Lead Teacher” must have a Florida Teacher Certificate, https://chsmedical.hua.hrsmart.com/hr/ats/Posting/view/10768?fbclid=IwAR0s-WK2LqirbR7EOP1pqapL2vi5PEmfPTrBY5LIAjcgoxQPiCxR0ijMKh4

[5] Trump administration cancels English classes, soccer, legal aid for unaccompanied child migrants in U.S. shelters, Maria Sacchetti, The Washington Post, June 5, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/trump-administration-cancels-english-classes-soccer-legal-aid-for-unaccompanied-child-migrants-in-us-shelters/2019/06/05/df2a0008-8712-11e9-a491-25df61c78dc4_story.html?fbclid=IwAR14ikVrmgBhBCfehd50lpGrN_I0IzDR2G26s2LoPTKvVUG4xbyZzBj6a4w&noredirect=on&utm_term=.1b4491a5cc7f

[6] See footnote 5.

[7] Gen. Kelly, Trump’s ex-top aide, joins board of firm running Homestead migrant shelter, Monique Madan, Miami Herald, May 3, 2019, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/immigration/article230007499.html

[8] Critics deplore this migrant shelter. Its operator just got a huge, hush-hush no-bid deal, Monique Madan, Miami Herald, May 1, 2019, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/immigration/article229744049.html

[9] See footnote 8.

[10] See footnote 8.