Protesters ‘Shed Light’ On Florida Detention Center For Migrant Children

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Above Photo: Daniel A. Varela/ Miami Herald

Binoculars in hand, Joshua Rubin stood atop a concrete barricade just a few feet away from the Homestead migrant shelter’s property line.

It’s the only vantage point that could give the protester any glimpse into the life of the thousands of unaccompanied minors detained there after crossing the Southern border without their biological parents.

For weeks, Rubin, along with dozens of other immigration advocates, put together large signs and wedged them between tree branches in a nearby wooded area—signs big enough for the children to see.

According to a police report, protesters say their signs were taken down from outside the shelter.

Written on two of the banners: “Estamos luchando por ustedes,” and “No estan solos” — “We are fighting for you” and “You are not alone.”

But last week, according to a police report, protesters say their signs were taken down, fueling a desire to make an even “bigger statement.”

“So we decided that we’d project our message on the buildings instead,” Rubin said. “There’s no shutting us up. Children belong in homes, not a child prison. So, we’re shining light on it.”

On Friday night, immigration groups from across the country rallied outside the shelter. Their form of a protest was a light show.

Projected on the buildings were messages that read “Shut it down” and “Homes Instead.”

Alessandra Mondolfi, the artist who coordinated the light demonstration said she wants people to wake up and know that this place exists.”

“The moment they step out into the yard they scan the horizon for our signs,” Mondolfi said. “Someone took them down but I will make bigger and bolder ones, like the ones tonight that shed light.”

Marina Vasquez, a pediatric nurse and protester who pressured federal officials to close the Tornillo shelter by camping outside the property for months, called the detainment of children “child abuse.”

“It was so cold. I drove from Austin and slept in my car. I spent Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with the children, well outside the gates of Tornillo,” Vasquez said. “It was so cold. But I felt that I was protecting the children in some way; by being there, by witnessing.”

In a letter to Congress on Thursday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the agency wants to deport migrant children to their home countries, citing a “system-wide meltdown.”

In the letter, Nielsen called on Congress to allocate money to add thousands of beds at existing immigrant detention centers, and to expand the number of temporary shelters.

“We need additional temporary facilities as soon as possible in order to process arriving aliens, especially those entering illegally between ports of entry,” Nielsen wrote.

A temporary emergency shelter, according to federal officials, is any “unlicensed care provider facility that provides temporary emergency shelter and services for unaccompanied alien children when licensed facilities are near or at capacity.”

Being unlicensed means the facilities like Homestead don’t have to be certified by state authorities responsible for regulating facilities that house children. Temporary shelters also don’t have to comply with the 1997 Flores Settlement, which limits how long U.S. officials can detain children at detention centers — 20 days maximum.