MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It’s a new day in South Florida for hundreds of refugee children, but their future remains unknown. South Florida is now home to the only temporary shelter in the United States currently operating and taking in children – specifically teenagers – from Central American countries who authorities say were taken into custody at the U.S. border. CBS4 Chief Investigator Michele Gillen toured the government run shelter – a window into the dangerous crossings and hopeful escapes to freedom.
The American and Florida state flags are first to come into view as teenagers arrive at their new temporary home in Homestead Florida.
They pass the steely plane that sits in front of the Homestead Air Reserve and soon enter a fenced in property that has been retro fitted into a temporary shelter.
Just opened days ago, there are currently 200 youngsters, aged 13 to 17, housed there awaiting their next step in trying to remain in the United States.
Most have ended up in federal custody after fleeing Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Dangerous journeys taken said Cheryl Little, the co-founder and executive director of Americans for Immigrant Justice, because these children have little options.
“These children, so many of them, honestly are fleeing for their lives. They understand very well how dangerous the journey is they are about to undertake. They do it anyway because they feel they do not have any choice,” explains Little, a veteran advocate for such children in assuring that their legal rights in filing for asylum are respected.
Once the teens arrive they go through a system of intake, physical examinations and vaccinations. All preparation, federal officials say, for possible immersion into U.S. society. But the chances they will stay in the U.S. and not be deported are unknown.
While they wait to find or connect with a sponsor, at the shelter they take classes and live in dormitories where the boys are separated from the girls.
They are not allowed to leave the property and reportedly are supervised 24 hours a day by staff.
In preparation for immigration hearings, they are appointed legal advisors to guide them through the complicated process. Staffers from Americans for Immigrant Justice are on site.
Wednesday’s tour by media and stakeholders was closely monitored, and journalists were not allowed to enter with or use any recording devices.
All video and photos of the teenagers and activities were taken by and selected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
How much did the retrofit of the facility cost?
No answers on that available says a federal spokesperson.
The teens who find themselves at the shelter are only supposed to stay at the facility for just over about a month.
In the past, with spikes of children fleeing Central American because of violence – in particular from gang violence, Gillen asked how many of them end up being deported.
No answer on that was available.
Some advocates turned up with similar questions today.
“The numbers are really unclear. But we know deportations are currently targeting children and families who recently arrived. So these children are on the top of the list,” said a concerned Lis-Marie Alvarado of the American Friends Service Committee.
While their next stop is unknown, to some their future must be better than their past.
As Little shares, “These children are fleeing such vicious gangs, drugs cartels. Many have been trafficked.”