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Reports from ICE Detention Centers Confirm Children are Being Held in “Prisons”

Yesterday, members of the Hispanic Caucus visited the Homestead Temporary Shelter in Florida, which houses unaccompanied migrant children, to investigate the conditions of the facility. What they found is shocking, but also supports what children have said about what it is like to live there

Hispanic Caucus Chairman and Rep. Joaquin Castro led the team, which included Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Congresswoman Donna Shalala, and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia.

“This was a chilling experience, not because the staff that works here isn’t trying to do the best for the children, but because the system itself is unacceptable,” Rep. Shalala said, according to a press release. “It’s unacceptable to keep children in these kinds of situations for a very long period time. We got rid of orphanages years ago because it was no way to bring up children. The definition of unaccompanied is much too narrow. If you don’t come with a parent, but you come with an aunt or an uncle or a cousin or a brother, you’re defined as unaccompanied. We need to get these children to family members much more quickly, and Congress will have the opportunity, particularly the House of Representatives, to look at what’s holding up the process, if it’s resources, or if it needs to be re-thought through, we need to provide those kinds of resources and make sure the leadership is there.”

Last week, The Huffington Post reported that kids living in this shelter were packed “like sardines.”

“These children are in perhaps the most restrictive and least family-like setting possible,” Neha Desai, the director of immigration at the National Center for Youth Law, said in an email to HuffPost. “I spoke with youth that slept in rooms with 100 other kids at night. Some of them have been there for months on end, with no freedom of movement, no privacy, no human contact.”

Rep. Mucarsel-Powell agreed with that statement and said after visiting the shelter: “I can tell you that as a mother it was very difficult to walk through the Center. It has a prison-like feel. We walked into a room that has bunk beds where 144 kids are sleeping in one area. We saw kids that were eating in a tent; I don’t know how many kids were eating there.”

The lawmakers also expressed that the center lacked a primary educational system, and the children deserved a better instructional program.

“The thing that concerned me a lot really was the level of education instruction, the certification of teachers, the curriculum,” Rep. Garcia said. “I don’t understand why these facilities don’t subcontract out to the local school district, who know the business of teaching kids, to make sure that these kids not only have hope in their minds and their dreams but also an education for their future.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Legal Aid Justice Center and a Washington, D.C.-based law firm are currently suing the Trump Administration for their treatment of detained children.