South Florida Congresswomen Denied Access to Homestead Detention Facility

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Washington, April 6, 2019 | comments
"Denying entry to oversee the conditions and care provided to the unaccompanied children in the Homestead facility would not only be a breach of transparency and confidence in the care provided there, it would violate the law."
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(Washington D.C.) – Three South Florida Congresswomen have been told by the Trump Administration that they will be denied entry to the refugee resettlement facility in Homestead on Monday morning, despite a new law mandating Congressional access there, and a recent announcement of plans to massively expand beds at the site amid lingering concerns over inadequate staffing, space and other services there.

Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23), Donna Shalala (FL-27), and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26) issued the following joint statement regarding the initial denial of access into the Homestead Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facility:    

“Denying entry to oversee the conditions and care provided to the unaccompanied children in the Homestead facility would not only be a breach of transparency and confidence in the care provided there, it would violate the law. A similar denial of access occurred there a year ago, and Congress specifically addressed it by ensuring Members would have unencumbered access to such facilities to conduct our constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities. Given long-held concerns about the Homestead facility’s lack of staffing, space, education and other services, the recent announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that it will dramatically expand the number of beds there merits immediate scrutiny. The Department’s initial refusal to allow entry there under these current circumstances is deeply troubling. Violating the law is never acceptable, and certainly not in this critical moment.

“During our last visit to Homestead, we witnessed children living in cramped, prison-like conditions,” the joint statement said. “The idea to force even more children into an already full detention facility is not only unsafe, but is cruel and violates basic tenets of human decency.”

Trump Administration officials announced Monday that they will, for the second time this year, dramatically expand the number of beds at the Homestead temporary detention facility. In January federal officials announced plans to expand the Homestead facility from 1,350 beds to 2,350 beds. This week, officials announced a plan to expand bed capacity again at the temporary influx shelter, from 2,350 to 3,200 later this month. That would mark a 140 percent increase in child bed capacity in just four months.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) Friday sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar on the Department’s intention to deny Congresswomen Wasserman Schultz, Mucarsel-Powell and Shalala entry into the facility.

“The representatives intend to visit the facility to conduct oversight of the condition of the facility and care received by the unaccompanied alien children,” DeLauro wrote. “If the Department of Health and Human Services denies them access, the Department would be in violation of the law.”

She continued: “As the Chair of the Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, I ask that you immediately come into compliance with the law and allow all Members of Congress access to facilities used for purposes of maintaining custody of or otherwise housing unaccompanied alien children immediately upon request.”

Wasserman Schultz sponsored the new access law following a similar denial of entry last year.

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