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Congresswomen blocked from touring detention center for migrant children

Federal officials plan to expand capacity of Homestead facility

Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) and Rep. Sylvia García (D-TX) (L-R) greet people after touring the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Migrant Children facility on Feb. 19, 2019 in Homestead, Florida.
Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) and Rep. Sylvia García (D-TX) (L-R) greet people after touring the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Migrant Children facility on Feb. 19, 2019 in Homestead, Florida. (Getty Images)

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Three South Florida congresswomen have been denied access to a shelter for migrant children in Homestead just days after the Trump administration announced plans to expand the facility.

The Homestead facility houses about 2,000 migrant children who arrived in the United States without parents or legal guardians, mostly from Central America countries. In recent weeks, the number of migrants seeking asylum at the southern border has surged, prompting the federal officials to expand the facility to house about 3,000 children.

Federal officials say the center is not a detention facility, but the children are not allowed to leave and the site is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. Several teens have attempted to escape in recent months.

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Reps. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, all Democrats, had sought to tour the facility Monday, but were blocked by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The congresswomen said they would still try to tour the facility Monday despite the ruling from the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the shelter.

Democratic officials toured the facility last year after initially being blocked by the Trump administration, but their access to the migrant children was limited. The lawmakers said the facility has crowded when it only housed 1,000 children.

Journalists have also toured the facility, where children, mostly teenagers, live in dormitory-style housing and attend school.

"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," the congresswomen said in statement. "The department’s initial refusal to allow entry there under these current circumstances is deeply troubling."

The site was the focus of protests after it began housing migrant children who were separated from their families when they crossed into the United States. Currently, the center mostly houses children who came to the United States alone.