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Controversial South Florida Shelter For Unaccompanied Minors Shuts Down

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - The Trump administration is shutting down a shelter for unaccompanied minors in south Miami-Dade which had come under intense criticism from advocates and lawmakers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Monday that it has now reduced bed capacity from 1,200 to zero. About 2,000 workers were being let go.

The Homestead facility emptied out in August but had remained operational in case there was no room at shelters for teen migrants that had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

Since the facility's activation in March 2018, about 14,300 unaccompanied minors were brought to the site, according to HHS.

"It seems we are one step closer to insuring that the for-profit detention of children does not take place in Miami-Dade County," said Tomas Kennedy with the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

CBS4's Hank tester reached out to Caliburn International, the company that operated the Homestead facility. The company's statement was brief:

"For questions about ORR or its programs, please contact the HHS ACF Office of Public Affairs."

Tester reached out to the HHS, who issued a statement that read, in part:

"As such, in our ongoing efforts to ensure fiscal prudence, following a sustained decrease in referrals, HHS operations at the Homestead Temporary Influx facility will be transitioned into warm status effective immediately. HHS will retain site access to ensure continuity of operations in the event of an increase in UAC referrals or an emergency situation, however current bed capacity will be reduced to zero. Staff at the facility will be released over the course of the next 5 to 7 days. Please note that no UAC placements have occurred at the site since July 3, 2019.

While the current service provider contract with Comprehensive Health Services (CHS) ends on November 30, 2019, HHS will retain access to the Homestead site for temporary influx as we consider options regarding its future use. Per our normal policy, we will keep Congress, local officials, and stakeholders notified of decisions related to the site."

"We are still on guard and diligently looking at the situation and making sure the center for kids doesn't reopen," Kennedy said.

Democratic candidates visited the Miami-area facility during campaign stops, attacking the administration for holding children in a cramped detention center run by a private company.

"I am relieved to hear the Trump Administration is shutting down yet another for-profit child detention camp, thanks to pressure from Democrats in Congress, especially South Florida Members, and the immigrant advocacy community. But this for-profit abomination should never have been opened. Steering millions of taxpayer dollars into a poorly regulated and inadequately-staffed facility was cruel and irresponsible, not to mention ethically troubling, given former-Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly's position on the Board of Directors. I'll continue to monitor this facility and work to ensure that it stays closed," said US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a statement.

"The taxpayer should never have been footing the bill for the result of inhumane immigration policies. Given Caliburn's poor record of child abuse and neglect, as well as the sheer number of former Administration officials now serving on Caliburn's board, this is a good first step towards ending one of many corrupt practices this Administration has executed. I will now set my sights on closing the site all together because no one, especially children, should ever be held in these conditions," said US Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

"The facility was a for-profit prison for innocent children that should never have been allowed to exist in the first place and a money pit that cost American taxpayers a shocking $720,000 per day for months after the children were removed from the facility in August," Rep. Fredricka Wilson's statement.

The south Miami-Dade shelter, which was the only for-profit child detention center in the country, was the largest child detention center in the United States for unaccompanied minors. At one point this summer it housed around 3,000 children.


Caliburn International, a Virginia based company, was awarded a government contract to manage the center. President Donald Trump's former Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, is on the company's board.

Caliburn International operated the facility under a no-bid contract that is worth more than $350 million.

Many of the children that were housed at the facility were fleeing gang and domestic violence and will end up seeking asylum.

Children slept up to 12 per room in steel-framed bunk beds. In warehouse-sized, air-conditioned white tents they attended classes and watch movies.

The children had school six hours a day and there were recreational activities.

At night, lights went out in the rooms at 10 p.m. but were left on in the hallways. The children were awakened each day at 6:30 a.m. for a full day's program of activities and classes.

During the day, the kids were provided with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks.

The children met with their attorneys once a week. They also had access to clinicians and social workers.

On their arrival, they are given a five day supply of clothes, laundry was done every other day.

The facility, contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services, is surrounded by chain-link fence, but there is no barbed wire. There were guards, but they were not armed. Doors had been removed from the dormitory bedrooms.

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