Congresswomen turned away from Homestead migrant facility

Department of Health and Human Services states policy is to give 2 weeks' notice

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter, Tim Swift - Local10.com Digital Editor

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Three congresswomen were denied entrance Monday to the Homestead detention center for unaccompanied migrant children.

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

The group showed up anyway Monday, but were turned away.

The congresswomen made a verbal request last Wednesday to tour the facility, and a representative from the Department of Health and Human Services said the department requested for more time to assist them with their request. 

The congresswomen said the department is breaking the law by not providing an open door for lawmakers to see the conditions at the facility.

"I passed a federal law, passed by President Trump, that requires ORR, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, to allow any member of Congress into any detention facility," Wasserman Schultz said. 

The Department of Health and Human Services, however, has maintained that its policy has always been to give two weeks' notice when requesting to tour the facility.

"To ensure a facility visit does not interfere with the staff's ability to provide for the safety, well-being, or privacy of UACs, especially during a period of high influx," HHS spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer said in a statement. "It meets our current statutory obligation to provide members of Congress with facility access."

The Homestead facility houses about 2,000 migrant children who arrived in the United States without parents or legal guardians, mostly from countries in Central America.

In recent weeks, the number of migrants seeking asylum at the southern border has surged, prompting federal officials to expand the facility to house about 3,000 children.

"They ought to be with families," Shalala said. "And we've got to get them out of these facilities into safe homes as quickly as possible." 

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