US pays $775 a head per day to keep children in cages as House approves additional $4.5bn

A few Democratic Party lawmakers and presidential hopefuls attempted to visit a privately-run immigration detention camp for children on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. The site in Homestead, Florida is but one on a list of overcrowded and dangerously unhealthy facilities around the country. After each official failed to gain entry, they took the opportunity to interview protestors calling for the camp’s closure. Español

Danica Jorden
2 July 2019, 12.01am
An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus outside the Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas. June 23rd 2018. Photo: AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File. All rights reserved.

The day before, the House of Representatives approved $4.5 billion in emergency funding to house refugees and immigrants, and one day after, the Senate passed a similar request for $4.6 billion. The House proposal earmarks most of the money for the care of migrant and refugee children, who are sometimes unaccompanied but most often separated from their families when they present themselves or are apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol. The funding contains stipulations concerning the level of care the government is supposed to offer.

But the federal government already pays the Caliburn International corporation $775 a day for each of the 3,200 children it presently holds in Homestead, amounting to an astounding $2.5 million per day. The corporation also runs three other centers in Texas.

Meanwhile, hundreds of other children are languishing on buses to nowhere, departing and then returning to a publicly-run detention camp in Clint, Texas after lawyers went to the press to decry the camp’s heinous conditions. The lawyers described interviewing children in filthy clothes with matted hair who said they were sleeping on bare concrete; malnourished, unwashed, disease-ridden and subject to irrational punishment. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) also spends the same $775 per child per day at Clint.

According to one of the lawyers, Warren Binford, 86% of these children have parents or other caregivers in the United States and therefore do not need to be at the center, though they have remained inside for anywhere from three weeks to three months. As at Homestead, the lawyers were not allowed to tour inside the facility.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris makes a statement to media outside of the Homestead Detention Center on June 28, 2019 in Homestead, Fla. (Photo by Jennifer King/MIami Herald/TNS/Sipa USA )

Caliburn, the company running Homestead, has powerful connections to the federal government and, especially, the United States military. Right before his post as head of Homeland Security and then Chief of Staff for President Donald Trump, General John Kelly was on the board of advisors of the investment firm that now controls Caliburn. He then returned to Caliburn’s own board of directors immediately upon his resignation from the government. Another general and two admirals are also on that board.

By comparison, the federal government under the Obama administration was renting beds for adult detained immigrants in county jails in states such as Illinois and Wisconsin at rates starting at $65 a night. In 2018, the Chicago Sun-Times called the program that was fetching McHenry County $95 a night a “cash cow”.

While lawmakers were not allowed to view the Homestead facility on Wednesday, future board member General Kelly was photographed being shepherded around the camp in April in an oversized golf cart. Caliburn confirmed that he had joined the company in May.

The $4.5 billion was overwhelming approved by Democratic representatives as a way to alleviate the suffering, with the majority of Republicans voting against the funding because it did not contain money for a border wall.

Unless conditions significantly changed in a month, Kelly obviously liked what he saw: conditions Senator Elizabeth Warren called “a prison” where she saw sad and listless children being “marched” in military fashion from her vantage point outside the facility’s fences.

"We see a very different picture," said National Center for Youth Law director Leecia Welch back in February. "We see extremely traumatized children, some of whom sit across from us and can't stop crying over what they're experiencing.”

The $4.5 billion was overwhelming approved by Democratic representatives as a way to alleviate the suffering, with the majority of Republicans voting against the funding because it did not contain money for a border wall. Only four Democrats voted against the measure, all women of color. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar issued a joint statement, in which they wrote, “It is absolutely unconscionable to even consider giving one more dollar to support this president’s deportation force that openly commits human rights abuses and refuses to be held accountable to the American people.”

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