Sun-Sentinel: Children in shelter are OK but now they must be reunited with parents, say politicians after tour
“The absolutely critical thing that we have to have is making sure the administration immediately adopts a policy that helps these children, particularly those who were involuntarily separated from their parents at the border, to be reunified with their parents,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston.Sun-Sentinel
Children in shelter are OK but now they must be reunited with parents, say politicians after tour
By David Fleshler and Anne Geggis
After touring a center for immigrant children in Homestead on Saturday, Democratic elected officials said the “barracks-like” facilities appeared clean and the children in good spirits, but they expressed concern over reuniting them with their parents.
“The absolutely critical thing that we have to have is making sure the administration immediately adopts a policy that helps these children, particularly those who were involuntarily separated from their parents at the border, to be reunified with their parents,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston.
The Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children houses 1,179 children between the ages of 13-17. Although the vast majority arrived in the United States without relatives, the facility holds about 70 who had been separated from their families at the Mexican border under President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration.
The president rescinded the child-separation policy Wednesday, after bipartisan outrage over the practice, but Democrats are criticizing the administration for not coming up with a realistic plan for returning children to their parents.
“The facilities are nice,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said at a news conference outside the Homestead center. “The children are being cared for. But the question is the reunification of the 2,300 children.”
The children each get two 10-minute calls with their parents each week, Nelson said, and the vast majority appear to have been able to talk with their parents.
As they spoke, protesters were gathering in this city at the tip of the Florida peninsula for a late-afternoon rally in opposition to Trump’s immigration policies. By 4:30 p.m., thousands of protesters packed the streets, holding signs that read “What if it was your child?” “Keeping families together = American values” and “No more child abuse, No more Trump.” One sign showed an image of Mary holding the baby Jesus and said “I was a stranger.”
Escorted by police, which shut traffic on the southbound lane of 288th Street, the crowd marched and chanted, “Up up with immigration, down down with deportation. No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here."
“I'm furious about what happened. I feel we have forsaken our American values and ideals,” said Helena Castro, 47, a public school teacher from Miami Lakes. “I am the daughter of two Cuban immigrants who fled communism 50 years ago. I owe it to them, my students who represent immigrants all over the world. It's for them I am here today.”
Despite Trump’s decision to rescind his family-separation policy, Teresita Gonzalez, who works for the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami, said she felt compelled to march.
"There's still a cruel policy against people on our borders,” she said. “We've never been this cruel to immigrants and their stories.”
A half-dozen counter protesters heckled the crowd. “Go back to your country,” yelled one man in a red Make America Great Again hat, who declined to give his name. “This is my country.”
“How dare you?” responded Aumary Yuan, 21, of Miami, one of the protesters. “Hold your own rally.”
Arriving at the front of the Homestead center, where the children were being held, they piled small stuffed animals at the gates.
"Hey Trump," they chanted. “Leave our kids alone.”
Some stood at the front yelling toward the facility, “Shame on you, shame on you."
Trump addressed the immigration controversy Saturday with a tweet that took a dig at Democratic congressional leaders.
“It’s very sad that Nancy Pelosi and her sidekick, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, want to protect illegal immigrants far more than the citizens of our country,” the president wrote. “The United States cannot stand for this. We wants safety and security at our borders!”
During the news conference, Wasserman Schultz, said the children lived in a clean but “regimented, military bare-bones style” housing, sleeping in bunk beds.
She sharply criticized comments on immigrants by Trump, who held a White House event Friday devoted to the families of people murdered by illegal immigrants, of whom the president said, “These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones.”
Wasserman Schultz said, “For the president to continue to refer to these children and their families as an infestation in the United States, and to suggest that their parents are drug dealers, are criminals and are somehow coming across the border to harm Americans, is revolting.”
Wasserman Schultz said she couldn’t understand why she and Nelson were denied admittance five days ago.
"If this is really how it is run, there was no reason to refuse us entry," she said. "I don't know if they cleaned it up.”
Earlier that day, five South Florida elected officials were turned away at the gate of the Homestead facility, which is operated by Cape Canaveral-based Comprehensive Health Services, under a contract worth nearly $31 million.
“This is the district I represent,” said state Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Cutler Bay, to two men who stopped the group on the path to the entrance. “We followed all the rules.”
He was joined by state Sen. Javier Rodriguez, state Sen. Annette Taddeo and Miami-Dade County commissioners Barbara Jordan and Daniella Levine Cava.
“We’ll do our best to accommodate you at a future date,” one of the men from the facility said.
Speaking to a group of journalists who witnessed the confrontation Saturday in front of the shelter, the elected officials said they had contacted the facility in advance to arrange a visit, but without success.
“This has been a cooperative facility before,” Levine Cava said. “This is not acceptable.”
Some protesters joined the journalists outside the Homestead center.
Richard Murphy, 68, of Miami, retired from sales and marketing for a housewares company, stood dressed in a tie decorated with flags and a long-sleeved shirt in the stifling heat with a sign that said "America it's time to check our moral compass."
"Everyone needs to search their moral conscience," he said. "There's no excuse for child abuse"
He said he was outraged as a Christian that no churches had condemned separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents.
"Their silence and complicity is nothing more than a cancer on the body of Christ," he said.
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