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All unaccompanied children removed from Homestead migrant detention facility

Exclusive look at Homestead migrant facility
CBS News gets exclusive look into Homestead migrant facility 05:28

All unaccompanied children have been removed from the Homestead migrant detention facility in Homestead, Florida, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed on Saturday. Homestead, which has been criticized by politicians for its treatment of unaccompanied minors, was the nation's largest facility for migrant children, housing 14,300 unaccompanied minors since March 2018.

HHS said in a statement that no new unaccompanied minors had been housed in Homestead since July 3, and that the facility has plans to reduce the number of beds from 2,700 to 1,200 "in the event of increased referrals or an emergency situation."

"Today we are announcing that all UAC sheltered in the Homestead facility have either been reunified with an appropriate sponsor or transferred to a state-licensed facility within the ORR [Office of Refugee Resettlement] network of care providers as of August 3, 2019," HHS said in a statement.

When a CBS News reporter toured the Homestead facility on Feb. 27, its program coordinator estimated that more than 99 percent of the residents had fled violence in their home countries. The vast majority housed at Homestead are from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. 

Located on several acres of federal land adjacent to an Air Reserve Base, the facility is the nation's only site not subject to routine inspections by state child welfare experts. Teens sleep in bunk bed-lined dorm rooms ranging in capacity from small rooms that fit 12 younger children to enormous halls shared by as many as 200 17-year-old boys, in rows of beds about shoulder-width apart.

Dozens of testimonials from children at the facility were filed by attorneys in May in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, as part of a more than 600-page motion. They argued that the Homestead facility is failing to comply with the Flores Agreement, a landmark settlement that set rules for how the federal government must care for unaccompanied migrant children.

The attorneys interviewed children in Homestead in November 2018 and March 2019. They said they were detained for too long, "harmed by lengthy detention at Homestead," and are subject to "prison-like" rules. The attorneys and children said they feared that breaking simple rules — length of shower, hugging or touching even their own siblings, not finishing meals — might hurt their chances at being released to their families. 

However, in June, HHS Secretary Alex Azar gave CBS News' Manuel Bojorquez a brief, guided tour of Homestead. CBS News saw orderly lunch lines, packed and boisterous classrooms and children moving about the sprawling campus single file.

Azar is pushing back against criticism after disturbing reports about conditions at Border Patrol facilities, which are not part of his department. 

"There's been a lot of factual misrepresentations or just ignorant statements made about Homestead and frankly, the broader program that we run at HHS," he said.

Angel Canales and Graham Kates contributed to this report.

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