Journalists get 2nd tour of Homestead center for migrant children

HOMESTEAD, FLA. (WSVN) - U.S. officials provided South Florida journalists a second tour of a facility housing more than 1,000 teenage migrants in Homestead.

Private contractors who run the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, about 25 miles southwest of Miami, showed journalists around the campus-like complex again, Wednesday.

Just like the first visit in June 2018, journalists were not permitted to interview the children, and no cameras or recorders of any kind were allowed inside.

Footage from inside the facility was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Homestead program housing undocumented children is among the largest in the U.S., and the only emergency influx shelter in the nation.

“What is in the best interest of the child is the guiding principal for how we run this program,” said Mark Webber, deputy assistant secretary of the HHS.

The facility currently houses 1,579 children. The number of children increased from 1,179 since the last tour in June.

Two campuses have since been established, with the south campus housing children ages 13 to 16 and the north campus housing children 17 years of age.

The younger group of children sleep 12 to a room, while the older children now sleep in much larger rooms with 144 beds per room.

The kids spend most of their days in the classroom and participate in activities like talent shows and Xbox tournaments from 6 a.m. until bedtime at 10 p.m.

A child’s average stay at the facility is 67 days, but Mark Levine, a regular protester, said that’s too long.

“It’s not mentally healthy for children to stay in an institutional setting,” said Levine.

Staff at the facility said they try to make the children’s stay as short as possible. Each child is provided a case worker with the goal of locating family members.

“This really is a residential center for children,” said Webber. “It’s a temporary shelter while we’re working to find a sponsor for them.”

HHS reported the Homestead facility has taken in 6,000 children and has released 4,450 of them to parents or relatives since March of 2018.

Webber said the second tour was provided to maintain transparency with the public.

“I believe, as you saw here today, there really is nothing to hide. We are very proud of the work that we do and how we take care of these children, who are here under very, very difficult circumstances,” said Webber.

If there is a sudden influx of unaccompanied children, the facility said they are prepared to increase the housing capacity to 2,350.

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