Private prisons have become notorious in the US for making billions of dollars off the incarcerated. Now private for-profit companies are expanding their services and getting rich off of immigrant children.
Caliburn International Corp., the company in charge of a temporary influx shelter in Homestead, Florida charges an outrageous $750 per child, per day to house immigrant children at their facility. Compared to the approximate cost of housing a migrant child at a standard, permanent shelter ($250), you would think that the children at the Homestead shelter would be well taken care of.
For $750 a day a child could stay in a suite at Trump’s Washington hotel. Instead the children here, who are usually unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, face prison-like, inhumane conditions.
According to testimonials files by attorneys in May of this year, children at the facility are detained for too long and are subject to “prison-like” rules which include being punished for too long of a shower, hugging or touching their own siblings, and not finishing their meals – which they walk to single-file and are only allowed 15 minutes for. Children live in fear that breaking any rules may hurt their chances of being released to their families.
Advocacy groups have called for children at the Homestead facility to be transferred to other licensed facilities. They accuse Homestead of not adhering to the Flores Agreement, which requires that children be placed in a licensed facility “as expeditiously as possible” with “prompt and continuous efforts” made to release them to family members.
Children are crammed into massive white tents with hundreds of other children. Recreation time and educational services that some children were able to enjoy have been canceled by the Trump administration.
Homestead is not licensed by federal authorities for childcare as it is not on federal land. It is also not subject to state inspections. Former Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly recently joined its board of directors. Interviewed children have described being yelled at to remain quiet, being stuck in rooms with lights on all hours so they didn’t know if it was day or night, being insulted by guards, and only being allowed phone calls to family twice a week. Many of the children that have lived at Homestead recall being constantly cold and hungry as well as scared and lonely.
The shelter is only increasing its capacity in light of Trump’s border enforcement and immigration policies. Homestead housed nearly 1,600 migrant children in February of this year but that number has grown to nearly 2,300 in the past few months. In order to adjust to the influx, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has relaxed its mental health services clinician-to-child ratio of 1 to 12 to 1 to 20.
For-profit prisons make their money by housing as many people as possible then spending as little as possible on them. For-profit companies are paid a set amount of money per prisoner. Prison industry lobbyists support politicians that are tough on crime (or are anti-immigration) because it means more people for their facilities.
Other for-profit facilities charge just as much as Caliburn. According to NBC News, the average cost of housing a detained child in a temporary for-profit shelter near the border is $775.
Democrats have raged against for-profit shelters and unlicensed shelters for migrant minors. In December 2018 Democrats in Congress introduced a bill that would ban the use of unlicensed temporary shelters for unaccompanied minors. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has called for limiting funding to for-profit shelters housing unaccompanied minors, while Senator Elizabeth Warren wants to get rid of the for-profit prison industry altogether.