By the time they arrived in Homestead, the migrant children had already taken an unwitting tour through American detention facilities with nicknames such as “la hielera” — “the ice box” — and “la perrera” — “the dog kennel.” Some had been separated from their parents at the southern border, usually after begging for a goodbye that guards refused to allow. Several of the teenage girls, despondent after being ripped from their families, were asked to feed, change, and care for the now-parentless babies.
They took in their new surroundings at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children — the tall chain-link fences, the massive white tents, the rows of bunk beds — without knowing exactly where they were or how long they’d be there. Weeks or months later, they’d settled into a routine of classes, counselor-accompanied bathroom breaks, and recreational time in the fenced fields outside the facility. They strove to follow rigid rules that limited phone calls to two a week and banned physical contact of any kind — even hugs and handshakes — fearful that breaking them might mean having to stay longer or even being deported to countries they’d fled because of murderous gangs or stifling poverty. Some had heard the American government might decide they were a “bad person.”
The children didn’t know when they might be released even though many had family members in the United States who wanted to take them. They heard rumors of kids who tried to escape and were shipped off to worse places. They felt dismayed when guards took away the friendship bracelets they’d made to pass the time, or the snacks they’d stowed amid their belongings. They cried themselves to sleep, marked birthdays that passed without anyone singing to them, and tried to follow the advice their parents shared over the phone: Be patient and don’t cause trouble.
By Brittany Shammas for MIAMI NEW TIMES
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