Suzanne Lynch at US detention centre: ‘It’s beyond belief that this is our country’

Child detention camps under spotlight as US immigration system reaches crisis point

Demonstrators press  for the release of migrant children  in front of a detention centre in Homestead, Florida, on Wednesday. Photograph: Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty

Demonstrators press for the release of migrant children in front of a detention centre in Homestead, Florida, on Wednesday. Photograph: Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty

 

Under the baking Florida sun, a small crowd has gathered patiently, hoping to catch a glimpse of the children behind the fence.

“This is our 136th day here,” says Charlie Fomby, a local resident who is protesting at conditions at the camp. Many have brought red heart signs which they hold up as they wave, hoping to catch the attention of the children standing in the grounds.

Some wave back. Most don’t, trapped behind the walls of the centre that has become their home.

Homestead, a town about an hour’s drive south of Miami, is home to the largest child detention camp in the United States.

[More from Suzanne Lynch in Florida: ‘Shut it down!’ Florida’s biggest migrant detention facility at centre of storm]

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Centres such as this have come into focus as the United States immigration system reaches crisis point. A year after President Donald Trump’s policy of separating families at the border horrified the nation, the eyes of the world are again on America’s immigrant children.

Last year, pictures of children in cages prompted public outcry; this time it is the photograph of a dead father and his child that has encapsulated the humanitarian crisis.

The image that emerged on Tuesday of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria lying face down on the banks of the Rio Grande has quickly become a symbol of the immigration system.

The family from El Salvador tried to swim across the river that divides the United States and Mexico, but didn’t make it. Instead, their bodies were found side by side, Valeria’s body tucked inside her father’s shirt as if in an embrace.

The bodies of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria lie on a bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, on Monday. Photograph: Abraham Pineda-Jácome/EPA
The bodies of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria lie on a bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, on Monday. Photograph: Abraham Pineda-Jácome/EPA

Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar visited the centre in Homestead on Wednesday ahead of the evening’s Democratic debate. Beto O’Rourke is expected to visit on Thursday. Addressing protesters, Warren vowed to fight Trump’s immigration policy. “This is wrong,” she said, to cheers of “Shut it Down!”

For those who come here on a daily basis, Warren’s visit was a welcome opportunity to highlight conditions at the centre.

Melissa Houtte had travelled to Homestead from Miami to protest.

“To see the child and her father drowned reminded me again – we are in a different country right now because of Donald Trump. It is appalling. He is using immigrants as bait to draw his followers. It’s beyond belief that this is our country.”

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