Heartland Human Care Services, which operates the Chicago facility, is already notorious. A report co-authored by Sanchez in 2018 said that children who were stolen from their families by the Trump administration under the zero tolerance policy and placed with Heartland became depressed, said they wanted to die, and, in their distress, were even admitted to a psychiatric hospital. One teen, then 15, had been in custody for over a year as of the report’s publishing date. He’d been unable to reunite with this dad because his dad had already been deported.
“It’s unclear how old the infected children are or where they are from,” ProPublica’s latest report said. “But the Bronzeville shelter, a four-story converted nursing home that can hold up to 250 boys and girls, is licensed to house children from infancy to 17 years old. Officials said they ‘immediately’ move children to an isolated environment when they show any signs of any illness, including COVID-19, to minimize any risk of community spread.” Of course, the best way to truly minimize risk is to safely and quickly release kids to their families, as federal judges have urged.
Citing “unprecedented threats” to their safety, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee last month called on officials to “make continuous efforts” to release kids from ORR custody, writing that “For migrant children in detention, who are already more likely to have mental health concerns or may be separated from their family members, the trauma of undergoing solitary quarantine for the virus or simply not receiving adequate information about the potential for infection is likely to exacerbate existing mental health concerns.”
There are currently nearly 3,000 migrant children in U.S. custody across the U.S. “ORR has also stopped placing children at shelters in California, New York and Washington, with limited exceptions,” ProPublica continued, “and said it is trying to find local shelters for newly arrived immigrant children to limit air travel. Previously, children were moved to shelters around the country where beds were available.”
But this has all been done knowing that the best place for kids, as advocates like Holly Cooper of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California, Davis, and others have long said, is in a safe home, not at a facility where they’ll only continue to be a physical and emotional risk. “’The goal,’ she said to ProPublica, ‘is to get kids out of congregate care because there’s no way it can comply with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance even if you’re using all the hand sanitizer in the world.’”