Immigrant Children Will No Longer Be Separated At The Border. What Happens To Them Now?

Jun 22, 2018

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump reversed his controversial policy of separating undocumented children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, but questions still remain about what the future holds for immigrant children detained in American facilities, including one located in Homestead.

This week, answers about conditions inside that facility were hard to come by. 

The day before the president’s reversal, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Miami state Rep. Kionne McGhee went to the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children to tour the facility and check out first-hand how the kids were being cared for. They were denied entry.

This week’s The Florida Roundup discussed the continuing controversy over the treatment of migrant children. WLRN’S Christine DiMattei sits with WLRN reporter Danny Rivero, Brenda Medina, reporter with El Nuevo Herald, Emily Cardenas, director of communication for the Chidlren’s Trust and Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

WLRN: The initial deal, if I understand this correctly, was to reopen the Homestead temporary shelter. What do we mean reopen? Was it ever closed?

Danny Rivero: So, the shelter has been used in the past. It was used by the Obama administration in order to house a lot of unaccompanied minors that were coming in, especially in the crisis during about 2013-2014. 

A lot of those children who crossed the Mexico border were being housed there. It stopped operating for some period of time and a couple of months ago in February the shelter reopened. And what happened this week is that we learned that the facility is not only housing unaccompanied minors but they're housing children who are separated from their families when they cross the border and their parents were detained and they're facing prosecution from this zero tolerance policy and some of these children have been sent to Homestead.

WLRN: It seems that there were several state and local officials who were pretty much blindsided by the revelation that there were hundreds of kids in this facility. Now according to Bill Nelson's office, 94 of them were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. When you found out about this, what went through your mind?

Alberto Carvahlo: As a father, as an educator superintendent and as an immigrant who would have been called an undocumented kid when I first came to this country, I felt indignation, a degree of anger and incredible sadness that these kids were brought to this center in the dark of night and they have remained in darkness figuratively speaking.

WLRN: And you were not alerted?

A.C.: We were not alerted and that's one of the biggest differences between what took place this time around versus what we dealt with two years ago. Two years ago, we received notification from the federal government prior to these kids arriving at three different centers: the same center we’re discussing homes in Boys Town in Cutler Bay as well as His House in Miami Gardens. 

Two of those centers, we were asked directly and indirectly through third party entities to provide educational services and we deployed fully certified teachers and counselors to two of the centers: His House and Boys Town. The third center we were actually notified that the educational services were going to be contracted out to a private sector entity. But a stark difference between prior notification and actually engagement via a contract for us to provide educational services versus this time around.

WLRN: A lot has been said about the long term effects of this: No. 1 the separation from their parents. What do we know?

Emily Cardenas: There's there's a lot that we know. The science goes back 70 years regarding the trauma that children suffer when they are separated from their parents going back as far back as 1949 and then developed further in a published book called attachment and loss. That was written by the father of the attachment theory and maternal separation theories. 

So the Centers for Disease Control their research began with that early research and then they advance it. They had 17,000 participants in their in their research. That that was called the Adverse Childhood Experience study. And what that showed is that children who have multiple traumatic experiences suffer from long term, permanent, irreversible trauma that can lead to depression, drug use, alcoholism, poor academic achievement, suicide and it makes them at a higher risk for other diseases like diabetes and heart disease and so forth. So, the litany just goes on and on. The research is very, very deep.

WLRN: So we're talking about lifelong scars here. So, people who say oh well you know they're going to get reunited with their families eventually everything's going to be hunky dory couldn't be further from the truth. 

E.C.: That is that is correct. And in fact the research actually indicates that there is a threshold by which children can suffer trauma where they can recover and that is about 10 days. And so if we see kids in detention for longer than that and separated from their parents we are going to see some long-term impact.

WLRN: Brenda, what did you see this morning?

Brenda Medina: First, I want to say that tour that was given to the media was very restricted. Cameras or recording devices were not allowed. We were guided by a staff member. We weren't allowed to interact with kids at all. There are about 1,179 kids there right now. Staff members said that about 74, 70 to 74 of them have been separated from their parents at this border. The numbers change every day because some of the kids reunite with their parents faster or guardians faster than other kids. The average time that they spend there is 57 days while they're in the process of reuniting with their sponsors.

This post was updated after the Florida Roundup aired on June 22, 2018.