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White House on returning migrant kids to Homestead: ‘It’s not a detention center; it’s a shelter’

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Will the facility that will house undocumented children and teenagers in Miami-Dade County be a detention center or a prison? In an effort to disassociate from the former failures of the U.S. immigration detention system for minors, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that it will be a shelter.

“I would describe it as a place where we keep kids — who are under the age of 18 and taking a treacherous journey into this country — safe,” Psaki said.

On Wednesday, Psaki said President Joe Biden’s administration is working as quickly as possible to process the children out of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities and into shelters managed by The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.

The ultimate goal, she said, is to quickly transfer them to families. Over the years, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security built up a reputation for delaying the process.

“This is a difficult situation,” Psaki said. “It’s a difficult choice.”

Without providing any specific evidence, Sen. Marco Rubio said now it’s the Democrats who are putting kids in cages. On Fox News on Friday, Sent. Rick Scott also criticized Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

“What a bunch of hypocrites these Democrats are,” Scott said.

Biden’s administration will be reopening a facility for minors in Homestead that former President Donald Trump’s administration closed in October 2019.

Rep. Carlos Gimenez, the former mayor of Miami-Dade County, visited the facility next to the Homestead Air Reserve Base when HHS had entrusted a subsidiary of Caliburn International to manage it.

As Democrats at the time had complained about the secrecy at the facility, attorneys with the National Center for Youth Law reported children there were traumatized and the Florida Immigrant Coalition complained about the “for-profit child detention center.”

Gimenez said he didn’t have an issue with the way the center was being run and he saw the job creation aspect as a benefit to south Miami-Dade County.

“I didn’t find anything wrong going in there,” Gimenez said. “These are kids in a very difficult situation ... there were also some caseworkers trying to get them foster parents or sponsors.”

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About the Authors:

Michael Putney came to Local 10 in 1989 to become senior political reporter and host of "This Week In South Florida with Michael Putney." He is Local 10's senior political reporter. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.