The remaining children at the Homestead detention center have all been relocated — and they’re not coming back, two federal sources confirmed. As a result, massive layoffs are expected on Monday and Tuesday, they said.
The children were picked up in vans between the hours of 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. Saturday.
About 400 employees were laid off on Friday, and about 4,000 more are expected to lose their jobs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency over Homestead, plans on keeping about 130 employees on site to maintain the property even as the shelter remains closed.
As of last week, roughly 4,500 people worked at the facility, in roles ranging from youth care workers, medical personnel, case managers, cooks and cleaning staff.
“Today we are announcing that all [children] sheltered in the Homestead facility have either been reunified with an appropriate sponsor or transferred to a state-licensed facility within the [Office of Refugee Resettlement] network of care providers as of August 3, 2019.,” the agency said in a statement Saturday afternoon, a few hours after this story was posted. “Since activation in March 2018, approximately 14,300 UAC have been sheltered at the Homestead site.”
Miami-Dade County is working with Caliburn — the private company contracted by HHS to operate the detention center — to assist the thousands of workers who will lose their jobs, County Deputy Mayor Maurice Kemp told the Miami Herald.
“It will be a monumental task,” Kemp said. “More than 4,000 people will be jobless soon so we’re stepping in to assist in any way we can.”
Kemp noted that CareerSource, a quasi-county agency charged with helping people find employment, will be spearheading the effort. As of Saturday, details on the department’s next steps were unclear.
“We just found out about this a few days ago so we are still working on developing the exact plan,” Kemp said.
Homestead was the largest for-profit, influx detention center for unaccompanied minor children in the country with 3,200 beds at its peak. As of Saturday, the government had no plans of sending any incoming kids to the center from the southern border.
The move to empty out Homestead came in the same days that HHS told lawmakers it was considering Central Florida, as well as Virginia and Los Angeles, as sites for future permanent shelters to hold unaccompanied migrant children. Last month the government said it was also looking at Atlanta, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix. Homestead will remain open as an emergency shelter in case bed space runs out at other centers.
In the last few weeks, the center’s child population had been rapidly declining as the peak of hurricane season approached. About a month ago, there were roughly 3,000 kids; earlier this week there were less than 500. To abide by safety regulations, the government had to get the population down to 1,200, and in order to evacuate in case of a tropical storm or hurricane, that number had to be reduced by at least 700.
For now, 1,200 empty beds will remain in the facility to be used a last resort for unaccompanied minors.
“HHS plans to retain but reduce bed capacity at the Homestead facility from 2,700 beds to 1,200 beds for future access in the event of increased referrals or an emergency situation,” HHS said. “At this time, retaining bed capacity at the Homestead influx facility is necessary to provide care and services to [unaccompanied minors] as mandated. We anticipate an uptick in the number of referrals made to HHS this fall, based on historical trends.”
A tropical wave in the Atlantic earlier in the week activated the center’s recently revealed hurricane plan, which said the facility would transfer all children at least five days before South Florida was was in the cone of error. Federal officials would not say which centers they were taken to.
“From reducing the number of children held at Homestead to forcing the administration to produce a hurricane plan, I’m glad that our community’s persistent advocacy brought about real results,” said Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, whose district includes the area where the center is located. “However, I still have many questions about where these children are being sent to and the conditions they’ll be kept in. They shouldn’t be sent to another detention facility — they must be reunited with family or placed with a sponsor.”
According to HHS, during its effort to downsize, most of the children were reunited with their families.
Hundreds, however, still don’t have sponsors and will soon age out of the system, according to federal employees close to the operation. When an unaccompanied minor turns 18, they are handcuffed or shackled and booked into an adult U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility.
Joshua Rubin, a lead protester who helped organize a campaign to “Shut down Homestead,” said the news brings about mixed emotions.
“We know this is a victory but it still feels like we lost family members. We used to stand on ladders and see them every day,” Rubin said. “The fact that they were just shuffled around and taken somewhere else brings about an empty feeling.”