Children belong with family, not caged in for-profit detention centers

by Thomas Kennedy | March 12, 2019 1:05 am

Little boy in the dark looks out the cage. Credit: iStock by Getty Images

As the Trump administration continues to make it as difficult as possible for people fleeing extreme conditions to seek asylum within the United States, thousands of migrant children are sent by the government to intake centers like the one in Homestead, Florida.

The Homestead detention center stands apart from its counterparts across the country. It is by some estimates the biggest in the country, and is way overcapacity since the addition of 1,000 additional beds increased its total space to 2,350. More disturbingly, it is considered the only youth detention center in the country operated for a profit.

Immigrant groups in Florida and elsewhere have been working to ban the practice of private prisons running detention centers, especially for children. Organizations, such as FLIC in  Florida and Make the Road New York, had a big win last week when JP Morgan Chase & Co announced they will no longer finance private operators of prisons and detention centers.

This is a step in the right direction to cripple these behemoth cash-making companies. More needs to be done and it starts with showing the reality of life inside these detention centers.

Local South Florida media with the exception of a few publications, such as the Miami New Times and NPR, have regurgitated talking points fed to them during their guided and limited tours of this center, painting a picture of a forced summer camp for kids. In the process they have spectacularly failed in noting the for-profit motive behind the facility.

The operator in charge of the Homestead facility is Comprehensive Health Services. The company expanded by entering the immigrant detention business and has contracted with detention facilities, making a lot of money in the process. The current Homestead contract with the Department of Health and Human Services is worth an estimated $220 million dollars.

Last year, a larger corporation, Caliburn International LLC, bought Comprehensive Health, and Caliburn angled to go public on Wall Street.

In announcing its initial public offering in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission last fall, Homestead’s parent company, Caliburn International, stated that the Trump administration’s “border enforcement and immigration policy … is driving significant growth.” The company also warned investors that the “challenging and politically charged environment” could “adversely impact our share price.”

Caliburn was formed by D.C. Capital Partners, a private equity firm that, as of 2017, employed former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly as a lobbyist through a subsidiary. The Intercept reported in January 2017 that D.C. Capital had paid Kelly $37,500 and that he had failed to disclose the payments on government forms. After that news broke, Kelly announced he was resigning from the company.

It’s not hard to see that many people, including some that have been connected with the Trump administration, are enriching themselves from the same detention and deportation policies that they have helped turbo charge since Trump came into office. Fortunately, Caliburn cancelled the stock investment plan after public backlash following advocacy by immigration activists.

The systemic profiteering from the detention of immigrants will be a stain in American history. Detention centers like the one where children are being imprisoned in Homestead reminds us of the horrors of the Japanese internment camps.

Children don’t belong in cages or in detention.  In Homestead, hundreds of them are packed like sardines in over capacity bedrooms and classroom. These children should be with their families and loved ones, or at the very least in smaller capacity shelters that are operated in a transparent and accountable manner to the public and immigration advocates. What we really need is immigration policies that respect the rights and humanity of people.

Thomas Kennedy is the Political Director for FLIC Votes and a communications fellow for Community Change. He tweets from @Tomaskenn.


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