1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

All children have been moved from Homestead detention center. They’re not coming back

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.
View of workers inside the Homestead Detention Center after the government announcement that it will close this facility for unaccompanied minors. The remaining children were transferred out of the facility early Saturday. [PEDRO PORTAL | Miami Herald]
Published Aug. 5
Updated Aug. 5

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.

RELATED COVERAGE: At least 55 children separated from parents were held in Homestead facility, report says

“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.”


  1. Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes has another $500,000 for an East Tampa cultural center, courtesy of the Hillsborough County Commission. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Octavio Jones
    The Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously to give the money for the planned facility at Al Barnes Park.
  2. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.
    Scott renews his talking point in the wake of an investigative story.
  3. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at the Polk County Democrats Steak Fry, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) CHARLIE NEIBERGALL  |  AP
    All the candidates are here, hoping to pass the Hawkeye test. So far, Elizabeth Warren is surging.
  4. Tallahassee Mayor and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum talks with reporters before addressing a group of gay and lesbian Democrats in Tallahassee on Aug. 19. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)
    Gillum accused Florida’s Republican governor of “routine” voter suppression.
  5. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis talks to reporters in Tampa on Aug. 21. Delays in his filling vacancies on the state's five water management district boards have twice led to those agencies canceling meetings to levy taxes and set budgets, which one expert said was unprecedented. OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES  |  Times
    Vacancies lead to canceling two agencies’ budget meetings.
  6. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  7. Richard Swearingen, Florida's Commissioner of the Department of Law Enforcement, testifies before state lawmakers on Monday. Florida Channel
    But law enforcement officials are getting behind a “threat assessment system.”
  8. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  9. The Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach. JOE RAEDLE  |  Getty Images
    It wasn’t immediately clear how much Mar-a-Lago would charge to host the Marine Corps Birthday Ball — or even if it might do so for free.
  10. In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. JOSH EDELSON  |  AP
    ‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.