Community

Incarcerating Children: A Personal Reflection

By Kathy Peterson

In March, I joined the now 100-day-long witness at the immigrant children's prison camp located in Homestead, Florida.  There were roughly 2,200 kids there from ages 13-17 and new busloads arrived most nights.  The government is aiming to reach full capacity: 3,200 incarcerated children.  Recent family separation and child detention efforts were aimed at dissuading asylum seekers from coming to the US.  Like the decades of other prevention through deterrence policies, this policy failed completely. However, well-connected former government members have realized that there is tremendous money to be made in this scheme.

Although a Federal Judged ordered child separation to end on June 26, 2018, it continues.  Any child who arrives with someone who is not a proven parent is considered unaccompanied and sent to the prison camp.  Any parent who has previously tried to enter the US is immediately charged with the crime of illegal re-entry, and the family will be separated and imprisoned.  Any parent with an arrest record in their native country will have their child taken and be jailed.  This includes charges related to defending oneself in domestic violence circumstances.  The number of detained immigrant children climbs everyday even though there are families and sponsors wanting to be reunited with their children.    

 As more children have been detained (from about 2,700 when Trump took office to more than 15,000 by December 2018), there has emerged a closed loop of profit and power that has allowed a small number of corporate actors to reap enormous gains, which are then funneled in part into campaign contributions, which in turn ensure the creation and maintenance of policies to protect and promote their personal financial benefit.  The for-profit companies running these prison camps have no incentive to release children.  Right now, there are about 11,000 separated children being held in 100 sites.

At Homestead, the largest prison of any kind in the US, they are being paid $750 a day per child.   At a capacity of 3,200 children, that is $2.4 million a day of tax payer money being funneled into the for-profit DC Capital Partners Corp, the company that owns Comprehensive Health Services (CHH), which operates the Homestead Camp.  The 10-member board of DC Partners includes former top national security, diplomatic, and military officials.   One member, John Kelly, is the former Trump Chief of Staff and Secretary of Homeland Security.  He helped craft the policies that caused these detentions and now he is making money off those very policies.

CHH has just been awarded a no bid $341 million contract to run Homestead beyond October.  This has outraged some members of Congress who are calling for an investigation.  CHH is not licensed to care for children in Florida.  In addition, CHH has paid a $3 million medical fraud settlement in Florida for double-billing while providing medical screenings for IRS agents. In May, General Dynamics (GD) got a $1.6 million contract to provide training and technical assistance at Homestead. GD has faced $280.3 million in penalties for 23 misconduct cases since 1995. When the kids turn 18, they are handcuffed, shackled, and transferred to a GEO-owned facility, the infamous Broward adult prison.  GEO has made major campaign contributions to Donald Trump and hired a lobbyist who worked on behalf of Trump’s Florida golf courses.  It is clear that our criminally corrupt system of making war on brown migrants is enriching a small few who have found criminalization to be a very lucrative path to obscene profits.    

Take Action

  1. Follow the movement to end immigrant child prisons on Facebook: Witness Tornillo: Target Homestead. There are daily actions announced on the page that you can take to help end this atrocity.

  2. Go to Homestead to join the Witness.  Call Kathy Peterson 314-781-5740 for information. 

  3. Invite a speaker come to your group and/or include and article in your newsletter/bulletin/publication.  Call Kathy Peterson 314-781-5740 for information. 

  4. Donate! Consider the following:

  5. Speak up about the atrocity of child prison camps every day until they no longer exist.


About the Author:

Kathy Peterson and her husband, Dan Mosby, have been involved with IFCLA for more than 30 years.  They participated in the Witness at the now closed Tornillo, Texas, child concentration camp, joined in a week of lobbying the U.S. congress to end the mass incarceration of immigrant children, and have recently returned from Witnessing at the Homestead, Florida, concentration camp.

Notes from the March Monthly Meeting

Date: March 25, 2019
Location: IFCLA office, 5021 Adkins Ave., room 122
Attendance: 8

After a welcome and time for connecting around the prompt “Share one good thing that happened to you today,” meeting facilitator Sara John (IFCLA’s executive director) offered a reflection from the book Mujerista Theology by Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz.

Featured topic: Honduras

Ellen Ziegemeier, IFCLA board president, presented an account of the country’s recent history from her unique perspective first as a Peace Corp volunteer and later as a resident. Ellen is also a liaison between IFCLA and the Honduras Solidarity Network, which is committed to solidarity with social movements within Honduras as well as education within the United States and Canada about the impacts of our governments’ decisions and actions related to Latin America.

IFCLA's Advisory Committee: An Invitation for Deeper Engagement

The Advisory Committee is an affirming, welcoming space where members learn from each other and share their own experiences around a new topic each meeting. The group—rejuvenated in 2018 in response to IFCLA’s determination to live up to its bylaws—helps ensure that new ideas flow into our work from many different voices.

From communications to fund development and international delegations to design thinking, we try to dig deep into topics, both energizing us for our daily work and encouraging us to dream big for the future. The Advisory Committee is not a governing body. Rather, its goal is to generate many insights that will be helpful not only to IFCLA, but to other organizations and individuals in their own work.

Notes from the 2019 IFCLA Annual Meeting

Date: Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019
Location: St. John the Baptist Catholic Church - Parish Center
Attendance: 27

Movement blessing before breakfast by Tyler Connoley, Board Co-Convener

Overview of the day’s agenda by Sara John, Executive Director

Reflection on  MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963, Good Friday

Key actions in which IFCLA engaged in 2018 by Sara John

  • Civil disobedience at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in St. Louis (described in a previous blog post).

  • Sanctuary for Alex Garcia (to learn more, check out this video, produced by one of IFCLA’s own team members!).

  • DACA support

  • Accompaniment

Recap: IFCLA's Week of Gratitude

Recap: IFCLA's Week of Gratitude

Thank you all so much for the support and community you provided during IFCLA’s Week of Gratitude! The week was successful on many levels; besides the atmosphere of fun and connection achieved, IFCLA gained sixteen new sustainers and multiple one-time donations over the course of the week! These new sustainer commitments will help IFCLA immensely over the course of the next year, and we are more grateful than we can say. Let’s recap our week:

Press Advisory: Interfaith Press Conference & Faith Dialogue

St. Louis – Faith leaders en route to the tent prison in Tornillo, TX., where immigrant teens are being detained, will hold an interfaith press conference and “diálogo de fe” (faith dialogue) event at Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood, Missouri, on Monday, November 12 at 6:30 p.m. to demand that all immigrant families be reunited.

ACTION: Rise Up Against Indefinite Family Detention!

The Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA) was enacted in 1997 to protect immigrant children in government custody. Under the FSA, children were not allowed to be held for longer than 20 days in detention facilities due to the proven harmful effects on their development and well-being. The Trump administration has released an amended version of this ruling that would permit undocumented children and parents who enter the U.S. to be held indefinitely in unlicensed and unregulated facilities. Under the proposed regulation, “emergency” loopholes could result in the denial of basic needs or services to families in detention, as well as reduced access to due process. Plus, children would no longer be required to be transferred to Health and Human Services facilities within 72 hours of being detained.

So, what can you do about this injustice?

Visiting Missouri's State Capitol

We've sustained a small but persistent presence in Missouri's state capitol this year. With leadership and bill tracking from Aimee Abizera, the Executive Director of the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA), we have been active speaking out against anti-immigrant legislation in our state. 

In January, IFCLA's Program Coordinator, Sara John, offered oral testimony before the Senate Committee hearing on Senate Bill 34, along with attorney Ken Schmitt of US Legal Solutions, Aimee from MIRA, Sarah Baker ( ACLU-MO), and Jeannette Mott Oxford ( EmpowerMO). Unfortunately, the bill was voted out of committee and onto the Senate floor. 

Mobilizing Coherent Community Responses to Changing Immigration Policies—Conference in Houston, TX

On June 7-9, St. Louis was represented by 5 women from three organizations (IFCLA, the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action (MICA) Project, and St. Francis Community Services Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry—CLAM) at a conference in Houston, Texas, sponsored by the Center for Migration Studies of New York, the Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance of Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston, the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, and South Texas College of Law Houston. IFCLA, MICA Project and CLAM are also active participants in St. Louis’s Immigrant Service Providers Network (ISPN), a group that seeks to support the foreign born and their families in the St. Louis region by increasing community resources, advocating for inclusive policies and services, and educating residents and providers. 

Exploring immigrant experiences and identities through a trip to the borderlands, by Mary Louise Pabello

I have known the struggle of migrants all my life, being myself an immigrant to the US. But after the border trip with Loretto’s Latin America and Caribbean Committee, I find myself asking, “do I really?” Like the young woman I met at Casa Nazareth, my mother crossed countries while three months pregnant, and with two young daughters in tow. Unlike the young woman, however, my mother wasn’t fleeing violence in her home country. My mother wasn’t made to cross miles of desert on foot. My mother had a husband waiting to receive her. This young woman’s husband was in an unidentified detention center. She was alone. No family other than the life she carried, her yet-unborn child who might grow up never knowing their father. 

Launch of the St. Louis Immigration Enforcement Accompaniment Program

2017

In the wake of rapidly shifting rhetoric and policies that further criminalize immigrants and communities of color, several organizations across the country have developed new tools for response and support for the directly impacted individuals and their families, There have been numerous cases of migrants being detained after going to a routine check-in at the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or BI Incorporated (the private company that ICE contracts with to manage the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program). Family members literally disappear, often without being allowed to inform their friends or relatives, creating panic among their loved ones, destroying families and devastating our communities.