WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley released the following statement after conducting an oversight visit this morning to the Homestead child detention center in Homestead, Florida:
“I have been blessed to watch two wonderful children grow up and share their laughs and tears. And if there’s one thing you learn as a parent, it’s how much we shape children by the experiences they have – for better and for worse. Children belong in homes, playgrounds, and schools – not in prison camps.
“It was chilling to see so many children locked up in a remote prison camp. And it was powerful to speak directly with some of the children who are being held here, and hear their hopes and fears for their futures. We should be doing everything we can to ensure that these children are placed with families and can await their asylum hearings in an appropriate setting. But instead, the Trump administration is trying to expand the capacity of Homestead.
“Homestead is part of a system that stems from the administration’s strategy of criminalizing flight from oppression. That’s completely wrong. This administration needs to quit treating migrants as criminals, quit trying to inflict trauma on children as a strategy of deterrence, and ensure that every child with an asylum claim is treated in a dignified and decent manner while they await their asylum hearing.
“Congress cannot stand idly by while children are imprisoned in Americans’ names, using our taxpayer dollars. The House and Senate should pass the Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act and insist that Homestead be closed immediately.”
The Trump administration is currently trying to expand the capacity of Homestead from 1,350 to 2,350 migrant children. Because the Homestead facility is located on federal land and is being run as a “temporary” facility, the Trump administration claims it is exempt from both state and federal child welfare regulations.
On June 3, 2018 Merkley set off a national firestorm when he went to the border to personally investigate the Administration’s child separation policy and was turned away from a children’s detention center in Brownsville, Texas. Merkley pressured the Trump administration to back down from this cruel policy of separating children from their parents, but the administration has been determined to keep pursuing policies that inflict trauma on children and families fleeing persecution abroad.
In December, Merkley visited Texas to inspect family internment camps and a children’s tent prison, Tornillo, where the administration had been locking up children seeking asylum. After speaking out against what he saw and introducing legislation to shut down the child tent prison, the contractors running Tornillo announced in late December that they would stop accepting new children. Tornillo was shut down in mid-January after Merkley, along with Representative Judy Chu (D-CA), introduced the Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act. Merkley and Chu introduced an updated version of this legislation in January 2019 to close down Homestead and prevent any future re-opening of Tornillo.