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The Detained, Yet Determined Immigrant Children at Homestead

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Posted: Friday, February 15, 2019 12:30 am

My son, five years old at the time, once asked me about a dead bird in our yard.

“Daddy, what happened to that bird,” he asked.

I, trying to not sadden or scare him, simply answered something to the effect of: “He’s sick, and he’s probably sleeping.”

Without any hesitancy, he looked at me and said: “No, I think he’s dead,” and happily bounced away.

As adults, we sometimes underestimate the resiliency of children.

On Wednesday’s rainy morning, I and other journalists got the opportunity to tour the facilities at Homestead’s Job Corps Site, currently housing almost 1,600 immigrant children ranging from 13 to 17 years old, and mainly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Managed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) -- within the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) -- the directive entitled as The Unaccompanied Alien Children Program (UAC) receives, reviews, and reunifies these children with their parents or a sponsor here in the U.S.

The program coordinator (herself a licensed counselor, child-care administrator, and former border patrol agent) noted that while normally here in Homestead for an average of 67 days, the children work with a variety of case managers and reunification teams to be re-established

safely from the program.

As such, the program coordinator during the tour explained that 42% of these children are reunited with their parents, 47% are transported to close relatives like grandparents, aunts, and uncles here. The remaining 11% are sent to stay with distant relatives, such as cousins.

Within 24 hours however of being sent to Homestead, we were told that the vast majority of children are connected to their parents or other family, who they speak with twice a week.

Entering the Operations Center, we were greeted by a team of personnel in a multi-monitored office who tracked everything from reunifications in the U.S., transport, campus cameras, weather, and even medical appointments for the children.

As I and the other journalists continued our tour, we periodically saw children walking around, smiling and greeting us with a combination of “good mornings” and “buenas dias”. The only thing setting them apart from other U.S. high-schoolers, was that they were walking in single file behind an adult.

The South Campus is divided between 635 boys, 270 girls, for a total of 905 students; the North Campus holds only the 17-year-olds, split between 670 students, or 509 boys and 161 girls.

The South Campus school is a semi-permanent canvas and metal framed structure, complete with sheetrock walls, 30 different classrooms, 48 teachers. The North Campus school is similar, but has 41 teachers there.

The student’s day starts at 6:00 with wake-up and showers, and throughout the remainder of their weekday they attend school from 8am-5:30pm,

When not in school, the children are either playing or watching soccer, participating in plays or talents shows, or even competing in XBox tournaments with each other in their multi-purpose room.

On the weekends, they can attend Saturday morning or Sunday evening religious services, or Art Therapy, or watch movies.

Touring the traditionally styled girl’s dorms on the South Campus, which houses 428 beds in either 12 or 4 beds per room, complete with a bed,

toilet, and sink in each room, but not personalized like a typical

teenager, we were able to see that the rooms were bright, clean, and even with the beds made; something even adults don’t do, (yes, I’m talking about myself here).

The North Campus was completely different.

As the older cross section of the children, the boy’s dorm held 145 beds -- some with rosaries hanging from them, one with an origami paper flower hanging from it -- and as such, a whole separate wing for their toilets and showers: a long and large room with a row of a dozen each on opposite sides, centered with sinks.

Tables of dominoes, jenga, and chess reigned here, with an included recreation room; it was no surprise some of the younger children beg to go to the North Campus.

Leaving the campuses, but not before passing through the cafeteria which was preparing the days lunch (fish fillet, white rice, red beans, fruit, cookies, with a variety of 2% milk, tea, juice, and other beverages), I was amazed at how ordinary it all seemed, despite the extraordinary circumstances for their being there.

After an over 3,000 mile journey here, with some of these children we were told being robbed, assaulted, and/or abused, they were here now; alone yet together, comfortable and cared for.

Whether getting ready for a competition, or just getting clothing, these kids are being taken care of as they should be, just like our own kids here are.

And at the end of the day, regardless of the turmoil surrounding their circumstances, I saw at this facility the children are allowed to be children, and persevere in spite of.

Let’s make sure to not lose sight of that fact, and do what we can for them accordingly.

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