Where did all of the children go?
First the detention center for immigrant children in Homestead was overcrowded. Now it’s empty, and taxpayers are still paying millions for it.
Paula Dockery of Lakeland served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years.
Paula Dockery of Lakeland served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years. [ Paula Dockery ]
Published Sept. 27, 2019


One of the most disturbing acts of the Trump administration is separating children from the rest of their families while they were trying to legally enter the United States at our border.

Back in June, I wrote about these family separations because I was mad as hell. I adamantly oppose children being taken from their families, and I thought others would feel equally as outraged.

Not only is the policy of ripping families apart inhumane and heartless, it has also proven tragic. There have been seven child deaths over the past two years that we know of — the youngest was 2 1/2.

I’m still mad as hell.

We really don’t know how many children have been separated. We also don’t know how many have been lost, abused, trafficked or adopted without their parents’ knowledge.

We don’t know how many have been reunited or how long it took. The government agencies that are overseeing the process don’t seem to know or care. If they do know, they’re not telling us much.

Incredibly, the Trump administration had no plan and no process put in place to reunite these children before they separated them. Just think about that. Farmers keep better track of their cows than the Trump administration did with precious little children.

Three South Florida members of Congress — U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powel l— went to the Homestead facility in South Florida unannounced and were turned away.

Weeks later they were allowed entry to the Homestead facility along with other congressional members after the facility could set the stage for their visit — and reduce the population.

Homestead had been in the news for keeping children for longer than the law allows as determined by the 1997 Flores settlement, which allows children to be held in a temporary shelter for 20 days and then requires them to be transferred to a licensed facility.

Because it is a temporary shelter, the Homestead facility is not licensed by the state of Florida or regulated by child welfare authorities. It’s a tented, military-style facility and the largest federal children’s shelter in the country with a capacity of 1,600. It’s supposed to house children ages 13 to 17.

It is run by Comprehensive Health Services, a private, for-profit company. Its contract with the Department of Health and Human Services is for $220 million. At a cost of $1.2 million a day — $750 per child — it is estimated to be three times the cost of permanent shelters.

After public outcry for detaining as many as 2,350 unaccompanied minors for indefinite periods in Homestead’s overcrowded and unlicensed facility, Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services in July announced it was no longer sending children to Homestead.

Then we found out that Homestead was closed on Aug. 3 and all the children were moved out. How do you go from overcrowded to no children? Where did all the children go?

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Now we learn that, although there have been no children at the Homestead facility, federal officials admitted the government has spent more than $33 million to keep the Homestead shelter running for the 46 days since it’s been without detainees. That equates to $720,000 a day.

What the hell is going on?

HHS reduced the bed capacity at the facility from 2,700 beds to 1,200 beds and reduced the number of employees, but it kept 1,000 that show up to work at an empty facility.


The federal government claims that there may be an influx of children at the border sometime in October. Really? What are they basing that on?

The checks are flowing to Caliburn, the parent company of Comprehensive Health Services. It was contracted to run the Homestead facility, which is located on federal property.

It’s worth noting that Marine Gen. John Kelly, a supporter of the family separation policy, joined the board of directors of Caliburn after leaving the Trump administration at the end of 2018. Kelly served as the secretary of Homeland Security and then as President Trump’s chief of staff.

And we’re supposed to believe that privatization saves the taxpayers money? We may not know where the children went, but we certainly know where the money went.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She is now a registered NPA.