US government’s $33m camp for ‘imaginary migrants’
Florida detention facility for children remains open despite being empty
The Trump administration is under pressure to explain why taxpayers are paying more than $700,000 (£560,200) a day to run an empty migrant detention centre.
Florida’s Homestead detention facility for unaccompanied minors formerly held around 3,000 children but was cleared out over the summer, when detainees were relocated as the state entered hurricane season.
However, the facility remains open on a reduced-capacity basis, with about 1,200 available beds and a skeleton crew of support staff. “And for the privilege of keeping Homestead’s doors open and its $600-a-night beds empty in this manner, American taxpayers are still paying about $720,000 every day,” says GQ magazine.
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The news emerged during a congressional hearing this week, when Wisconsin Democratic Representative Mark Pocan quizzed Jonathan Hayes, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Hayes admitted that the facility remains “fully active” to accommodate a hypothetical emergency influx of children requiring shelter. A full shutdown would mean the camp would take between 90 and 120 days to return to readiness, he said.
Government officials say they “anticipate an uptick in the number of referrals made to HHS this fall, based on historical trends”, reports regional newspaper the Tampa Bay Times.
But Pocan appeared convinced, criticising the government for spending a total of around $33m since early August to pay for 1,200 “invisible, imaginary, nonexistent human beings” to stay in Homestead.
As he noted wryly, the cost of paying a private company to house a non-existent child was comparable to the nightly rate charged at a Trump-branded hotel.
The controversy has been heightened by the revelation that former Homeland Security secretary and White House chief of staff John Kelly is on the board of advisers for Caliburn International, the military contractor that runs Homestead through a subsidiary.
Caliburn was awarded a no-bid contract worth up to $341m (£273m) to run Homestead at “around the same time Kelly joined” the company, says GQ - with the result that Kelly is “now profiting off the very same immigration crisis his leadership helped create”.
Congresswoman Katherine Clark, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said the link was “deeply” troubling.
Speaking to CBS News, she added: “They wrote in their SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] filings as they announced plans to go public, ‘border enforcement and immigration policy is driving significant growth for our company’.
“Significant growth at what cost to the human experience?”