My father came first to Homestead Florida, more than 40 years ago. My mother and three of my siblings came later, all undocumented. My parents then had three more children, including me, so we three are citizens. After the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act’s passage, my parents applied — and were approved — for permanent residency. But they never did apply for citizenship.
My older brothers did have residency and work permits, but they fell out of status, with two now in the process of obtaining legal status and one deported. He tried to rejoin our family, but was stopped at the border, held in a detention center for a year, and then deported again. He’s still in México and barred from re-entry. So our family includes every category: citizens, permanent residents, undocumented, and deported.
Homestead became the location of the biggest immigrant youth detention center in the country. What kind of conditions did teenagers face there?
Homestead’s detention center opened under Obama in 2008 to house unaccompanied 13- to 17- year-old migrants. Some kids came with relatives, but were separated and labeled “unaccompanied” anyway. A for-profit company ran the center, and, under Trump’s zero tolerance policies, the center saw a huge surge, from 1,200 kids to 3,600. Some had to be put in tents. About 22,000 young people eventually passed through this place.
We had trouble finding out the real living conditions inside. The center’s officials denied entry to members of the local school board and even members of Congress.