U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio tours Homestead shelter for migrant children

Other lawmakers to visit shelter Saturday

By Madeleine Wright - Reporter, Glenna Milberg - Reporter

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Up until Friday, no one from the public has been allowed inside the temporary shelter in Homestead where 1,200 migrant children are being housed, including dozens who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But now, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is allowing certain people in so they can see what condition the children are living in.

The agency released video showing what it says the inside of the facility looks like.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, toured the shelter Friday afternoon.

"It was my perception that we have a place that's operating under very challenging circumstances and trying to do the best they can," he told reporters after touring the facility. 

Three protestors challenged Rubio's support for the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy on illegal border crossings and detaining all adults who do so.

The senator said he opposes separating the children from parents and acknowledged that a plan and process to keep them together does not exist. 

"That's one of the things Congress needs to step up and do. If that's the policy we want to pursue, then that capacity needs to be created," he said. 

What also does not exist is a system to reunite children and parents who have already been separated -- some of whom have no idea where the other is located.

"We represent children whose parents have already been deported and children whose parents we haven't been able to locate. So, obviously that's a very legitimate concern," said Cheryl Little, of Americans for Immigrant Justice.

Little's organization is the only legal entity contracted to meet with the children in shelters.

"We're waiting for guidance from the government, but frankly, given this administration's track record, it doesn't instill confidence that there's going to be an efficient reliable system in place to quickly reunite families," she said. 

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson -- all Democratic lawmakers from Florida -- will tour the shelter at 1 p.m. Saturday. They will also meet with the children and speak with officials to find out what they’re doing to reunite the children with their families.

Security guards kicked Wasserman Schultz and Nelson off the federal property on Tuesday, accusing them of trespassing when they showed up for a tour. But the duo said they had already been approved to tour the facility.

In light of the controversy, the agency changed its mind and decided to let members of Congress in Friday and Saturday. 

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said he was denied access both to the Homestead shelter and one that’s on the southern border.

"What kind of conditions are they living in? Why are we a bipartisan/nonpartisan group being denied access to these facilities? What's there to hide?" he asked.

Wilson said she'll be taking 50 red, white and blue balloons to the shelter to lift the spirits of the children.

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