Ron DeSantis and other Republican governors have been under fire from President Joe Biden and his administration for sending undocumented migrants – including children – to other states in recent days. His administration, however, now is cutting off funding to a program in Miami-Dade County that provides transitional foster care for refugee kids from Central America.
La Jornada, a program by the nonprofit Ohio-based National Youth Advocate Program (NYAP), is permanently shutting down in Homestead Oct. 31 after the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement decided not to renew its financial support. It’s unclear why the program was cut and if anything else will replace it. The office, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, had not responded to a request for comment as of Friday. Several immigrant advocates in South Florida who were contacted by City & State last week said they were unaware of the program.
NYAP filed a notice that it’s laying off all 84 staff members under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN. When asked how many children were currently in La Jornada – Spanish for “the journey” – or how many in total it served during its existence, Linda Sanner, national assistant director of administration for NYAP, declined to answer.
Immigration, always a contentious issue in Florida and nationally, has again been thrust into the national conversation as Gov. Ron DeSantis makes headlines by using state budget money to fly Venezuelan asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard from Texas. Budget language created a $12 million fund that the governor is using to fund the flights, which critics have derided as “kidnapping” and “human trafficking.” And he has been accusing the Biden administration of secretly flying migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to his state for months.
A now-shuttered detention center, or "temporary influx facility," also in Homestead once housed the “largest center for unaccompanied migrant children (and) turned into the symbolic must-visit site for 2020 Democrats,” as the Tampa Bay Times described it. After reports of abuse and overcrowding, Biden administration officials closed it, then planned to reopen it last year as the “Biscayne Influx Care Facility” to house migrant teens aged 13 to 17, according to the Miami Herald. They never did, however.
Now, DeSantis is seen as a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, and former President Donald Trump, who first helped launch DeSantis to political prominence, focused heavily on immigration to success with his conservative voting base while campaigning and in office.
For example, DeSantis this February said “it was ‘quite frankly disgusting’ to compare Cuban children who came to Miami 60 years ago with those (now) coming to the United States from Central America and other locations” south of the border, Florida Politics reported. “He said they are mostly males, ‘military age,’ 15 to 17 years old – ‘not some babies dropped over the border.’ ”
Program started under 3-year grant that wasn’t renewed
NYAP received a three-year grant from the feds to run the program in 2019, Sanner told City & State. When child refugees come into the United States, they are put into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The department uses programs like La Jornada to provide temporary housing and to assist with sponsor family placement so children can get a more permanent residence.
Sanner said children usually stayed with La Jornada for about 30 days. She could not give a reason why the program was not renewed for funding and said she didn’t know if any other organization would be replacing NYAP’s services.
Besides Venezuela, Central American countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have been experiencing economic and political instability, leading to a spike in their residents seeking refuge in other countries in recent years. There are currently nearly 600,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from those countries, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
DeSantis also has supported legislation mandating law enforcement agencies in Florida that oversee county detention facilities to work with federal authorities to enforce immigration laws. He signed a bill that bars Florida government agencies from doing business with transportation companies that bring undocumented immigrants to the state. And he sent Florida law enforcement to the Texas border in 2021 to help with border security.