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Protest in the Cape

By Staff | Jul 2, 2019

Dozens of protesters gathered outside of Congressman Francis Rooney’s Cape Coral office Tuesday afternoon to demand the closing of migrant camps in Homestead where they say conditions are deplorable for children.

Signs that read, “Kids don’t belong in cages” and “Close the camps” accompanied rallying cries of, “Love trumps hate,” “Immigration is not a crime,” and “Families belong together” as their voices rang out 180 miles northeast of Homestead.

The group gathered as part of the “Close the Camps Protest,” as organizers took part in protests at members of Congress’ offices across the nation.

Their demands included the closure of the camp, no profiting off of detention centers and deportation as well as reuniting families.

“I believe the protest today isn’t about being a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, it’s about children,” said Ron Rose of Cape Coral, who was part of the protest. “I would hope that something would be done at the border and to do away with some of these concentration camps, because that’s really what they are.”

The facility in Homestead has been met with backlash from groups who call it a “child prison.”

According to a release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as of May 30, 2019, there were approximately 2,240 “unaccompanied alien children” ages 13-17 residing at Homestead. Approximately 73 percent being male and 27 perfect female.

“No children were transferred to Homestead from the temporary influx shelter recently closed in Tornillo, Texas,” the release said.

The release stated that as of June 26, the average length of care of a child at Homestead was 25 days.

Congressman Rooney had the following to statement on the issue: “Detention centers for illegal immigrants, including children, were first instituted by President Obama in 2013-14. These centers have seen a large increase in detainees due to the crisis at our southern border and our flawed asylum and immigration systems. Unfortunately, until last week, democrat leadership in the House had refused to allocate money to aid the families and children being detained. I have sponsored several pieces of legislation to address our ongoing border crisis, speed adjudication of asylum claims, and fix our broken visa system.”

Rooney was not at his office during the time of the protest. Many in attendance planned to leave their signs at his door, including Rose, who brought a bar of soap and toothbrush.

Protesters in Cape Coral were disgusted with reports of lack of hygiene and basic essentials given, or not given, to youth.

“I’m out here because if my grandkids were being treated this way, I’d be burning the place down. Honest to god,” said Cape resident Eileen Oglesby. “They’re supposed to be out of there in 72 hours and some of them have been there for 50 days. They don’t think soap and toothpaste are necessary for hygienic and safe conditions. They’re sleeping on concrete with space blankets. Who treats people this way?”

Cape Coral resident Megan Hull said that she and her family are no better than anyone else just because they were born in the United States, and that basic humane treatment of people is something that should be automatic.

“I’m out here because what’s being done to all the families crossing the border is not OK. We’re not kind to other people because of who they are. We’re kind to other people because of who we are,” said Hull. “And as Americans and as leaders in this world – and as one of the greatest countries in this world – who are we not to provide people seeking asylum at least the opportunity to come here and give them the basic necessities? Food, water, shelter, safety. Keep their families together until they go to court to find out if they are going to stay in our country or not. But to treat them like scum of the earth, like dogs, like their lives don’t matter. There’s nothing more valuable about me or my children, than anybody else. The fact that I was born here had nothing to do with who I am. I did nothing to earn that. And if I was one of those parents walking thousands of miles and that’s what I came to – it’s just not OK.”

The release from HHS states that they arrange for the security of children on-site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It also states that children will receive an initial screening for visible and obvious health issues when they first arrive at border patrol facilities. Children are then medically screened and receive initial vaccinations within 48 hours of arriving at a HHS funded care provider.

Homestead, said HHS, was activated to provide temporary shelter beds for “unaccompanied alien children” cared for by the HHS in February 2018. It was previously vacant and not inspiration since August of 2015.

HHS said it is facing a dramatic spike in referrals of children and that as of June 10, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had referred over 52,000 children to HHS, an increase of over 60 percent compared to the same time last year.

HHS said it has expanded bed capacity at Homestead to 2,470 based on need.

“Family separations that resulted from the Zero Tolerance Policy that ended in 2018 are not driving the continuing operation of Homestead. In addition, no children at Homestead are there due to the Zero Tolerance Policy,” the report said.

One protester, Linda Windham of Cape Coral, said President Donald Trump is causing more harm than good.

“Trump has brought so much shame on this country,” said Windham. “He’s the one who needs to be in a cage at this point. What he has done to the Republican party is just beyond any reason — I cannot believe more Republicans have not spoken out against him. We used to be known as a generous country, not anymore. Look what has happened in our government because of Trump. And yes, the children and the families belong in this country. They came here just like everyone else did. Unless you’re a Native American, you’re an immigrant.”

Oglesby said the treatment of people looking for refuge is over the top.

“However they got here, seeking asylum, at most, is a misdemeanor,” she said. “They are being treated worse than convicts, they’re being treated worse than prisoners of war, and they’re kids. Who does that to people? And they’re doing it in my name. How dare they.”

Lori McFadden, who was in Miami for the Democratic debates and whose sister works on immigration law in their home state of Iowa got a look at Homestead for herself.

McFadden said the children were wearing orange hats and moving in single file lines from one tent to the other.

“We were able to stand on ladders and look over the fence and see the kids. Every time we saw them come out it was from one tent to another. They weren’t out there playing or anything like that,” McFadden said.

Homestead is run by Comprehensive Health Services Inc., which is a subsidiary of the homeland security firm and private prison operator, Caliburn International.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj