By Rev. Mary Katherine Morn on August 6, 2019
We can celebrate. We should celebrate.
As of August 3, the notorious detention facility in Homestead, Florida (which at one point held 3,000 children) is reportedly no longer holding any children in confinement. This is a major win, reflecting the growing power of grassroots advocacy to end child detention and family separation in all their forms. UUSC supporters have been part of this struggle along the way, signing the petition to shut down Homestead and protesting this administration’s abusive policies. While this victory was made possible by grassroots activists and allies around the country, I am deeply proud of the role our UUSC members have played.
We can celebrate. Change happens. Your voices raised, your presence at protests, your telling your colleagues and family what is happening—all of it matters. We can celebrate. And we must get right back to work. The dignity and integrity of members of our human family continue to be threatened.
We are grateful to UUSC Clergy Representative Rev. Dottie Mathews who has been a leader in this struggle against child detention. Her reflections from March informed and inspired many of us. In celebrating this new victory, Rev. Mathews remains committed to the work ahead:
We join with people of faith all across the country demanding our government cease abusing our migrant friends and claiming to do it for society’s safety when the only rational explanation is capitalist greed, xenophobia, and racism!
While the Homestead facility will remain in operation at reduced capacity, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) claims that all unaccompanied children previously confined there have either been released to their family members or other sponsors or been transferred to licensed childcare centers. If true, this means the government has taken a critical and long-overdue step toward respecting children’s rights under U.S. law and binding settlements, which forbid the long-term confinement of children in prison-like settings.
Far more needs to be done. We remain deeply concerned for the reportedly hundreds of children in HHS custody who do not have sponsors. While these children are protected under the Flores settlement so long as they are minors, they are at risk of “aging out” of these protections. Under current practice, many children are being shackled and locked up in adult detention facilities as soon as they turn 18.
Moreover, many of the underlying policies that have fueled the child detention crisis remain in place. We welcome HHS’s decision last month to stop collecting biometric data on some members of sponsors’ households, but it needs to fully abandon its information-sharing agreement with immigration enforcement agencies. So long as this agreement remains in place, some children’s relatives will be prevented from coming forward, because their data might be harvested.
Congress has put a temporary halt through recent spending deals on the government’s ability to arrest and deport children’s sponsors on the basis of HHS data. Nevertheless, children will be prevented from reuniting with their loved ones so long as this practice is not fully and permanently abolished. Likewise, until legislative action is taken, HHS may simply transfer other children into Homestead or set up new so-called “influx” facilities on the same model.
Rev. Mathews reminds us:
Our demands continue to be 1) No more warehousing of children (limit the foster facilities to no more than 250 children), 2) No more intimidation (end information sharing between HHS and ICE), 3) No more delays (place children with waiting family or suitable sponsors in accord with the Flores settlement). 4) No more secrecy (full public disclosure of detention center audits and full access and oversight by authorized immigration and child welfare specialists and 5) No more profits off the backs of children (end the for-profit contracts for those holding asylum-seekers of any age).
It is undeniable, however, that actions have an impact, even when we are faced with a hostile government. At a march earlier this summer, UUSC staff were present when HHS officials refused to meet with advocates or to receive the printed signatures of more than a hundred thousand members of the U.S. public calling for an end to the Homestead facility. Nevertheless, this sustained public pressure has eventually borne fruit. Children today are at home with their families, in part because ordinary people around the country raised their voice.
Photo Credit: Robert Perez on behalf of UUSC
About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!