Bad News for Butterflies and Children

Homestead detention center

Homestead detention center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

We still don’t know exactly what the budget “deal” provides—but the more we hear, the less likely it seems that there’s any meaningful limitation on detention beds or ICE funding, and there’s absolutely no whiff of relief for DREAMers or TPS and DED recipients. Nada. Nothing.

As we wait to hear what DC is doing to all of us this time around, here’s the (unfortunately awful) news that’s come out in the past few days: bad news for butterflies, distortion of ICE arrest statistics, and the for-profit Homestead detention center holding 1,600 teenage migrants.

Bad news for butterflies (and other animals, winged, four-legged, and two-legged) comes from the Ninth Circuit, which ruled that the Department of Homeland Security can waive environmental protections to build walls, barriers, and roads near the border. Attorneys for the privately-owned National Butterfly Center have sued to prevent encroachment on their land:

“Late Monday evening, attorneys for the National Butterfly Center asked a federal judge to block the Trump administration from building a border wall at the refuge or using the center’s property as a pass-through to build elsewhere. The motion alleges that federal agents and contractors have been driving without permission through the Rio Grande Valley refuge’s property to access nearby federal land for the last week, and that they even replaced one of the butterfly center’s gate locks. The Trump administration plans to break ground on a 6-mile stretch of border wall as soon as this week, starting with a federal wildlife refuge tract just upriver from the privately-owned butterfly center.”

Analyzing ICE claims about immigrants that it has arrested, HuffPost finds that “DUI, traffic tickets, simple drug possession and immigration violations made up nearly half the criminal convictions.”

ICE’s inflated rhetoric is based on overly broad and misleading classification of offenses.

“Perhaps the most misleading of those headings is “Dangerous Drugs.” More than 9,300 — one-sixth — of the convictions for arrestees logged by ICE were for simple marijuana possession or unspecified weed charges. ICE logged an additional 3,000 marijuana charges with no conviction at all. Unspecified drug possession accounted for another 9,138 of the convictions. Some of those convictions are four decades old….

“About a quarter of one of the most disturbing group of offenses ICE logged ― 1,531 convictions for “Homicide” ― involved either traffic accidents or negligence with a weapon, rather than premeditated killing. That figure is possibly an underestimate — most of the homicide convictions are unspecified.

“And the agency designates parole violations or failure to appear in court as “Obstructing Judiciary, Congress, Legislature, Etc.”…

“Nearly another 150,000 charges logged by ICE include no conviction date, meaning the charges were either dropped or the agency took custody of the accused before the case was adjudicated. Many of the charges without convictions are several years old.

Looking behind the Potemkin village facade of the Homestead detention center in Florida, NPR found something uglier than the smiling faces shown to journalists on tour. Part of the problem: journalists are only allowed escorted tours, at a distance from the teenage detainees, and are not allowed to talk to the teens. The behind-the-scenes story, as told by attorneys who were allowed to actually talk to detainees:

“We see a very different picture,” says Leecia Welch, senior director of legal advocacy and child welfare at the National Center for Youth Law. “We see extremely traumatized children, some of whom sit across from us and can’t stop crying over what they’re experiencing.”

She continues, “We hear stories of children who are told from the first day of their orientation that under no circumstances can they touch another child in the facility, even their own sibling, even friends who they’re saying goodbye to after many months of shared intense experience. They can’t hug them goodbye. If they do, they’re told they will be written up and it could affect their immigration case.”

Since the closing of the Tornillo tent city jail in Texas, Homestead is the largest detention center for children, with about 1,600 children detained there now, and a capacity of 2,350. The for-profit operation, run by Comprehensive Health Services, charges an average of $775 per day per child. As a temporary facility on federal property, Homestead “ doesn’t have to be licensed by the state and follow Florida child care standards.”

HuffPost added even more details from the legal and medical visiting team:

“Before Homestead’s expansion, most children slept in rooms of 12. But, according to immigration lawyers who visited Homestead last week, the facility recently outfitted one of its buildings to house 17-year-olds in large rooms that sleep 70 to 250 kids.  

“J.J. Mulligan Sepulveda, an immigration lawyer at the University of California, Davis, School of Law who conducted interviews at Homestead, spoke with teens who said they were sleeping in rooms with 150 to more than 200 kids.

“Mulligan Sepulveda, who also received a tour of the facility, told HuffPost the bunk beds in these large rooms were in “perfect, neat, 12-by-12 rows” and that children were packed in “like sardines.” “[There’s] just enough room to walk by [with your] shoulder skimming the bunk beds on each side,” he said. “[It] really hits home how inhumane it is.”


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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