Hundreds protest after lawmakers tour Homestead shelter for migrant children

Senator, congresswoman were turned away Tuesday

By Tim Swift - Local10.com Digital Editor

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz toured a shelter for migrant children in Homestead Saturday -- days after being denied entry to the facility.

After hours after the tour, almost a thousand people chanting, "shame" marched to the shelter, the second largest of its kind in the country. 

Nelson and Wasserman Schultz -- both Democrats -- were among a number of a lawmakers who have tried to tour detention centers for children who entered the United States illegally. The issue has gained greater prominence in recent weeks after the Trump administration instituted a policy that separated parents from their children at the border.

Wasserman Schultz and Nelson said the facility was clean and well-run, but still questioned why they were turned away on Tuesday. Wasserman Schultz said lawmakers should be able inspect the facility with less notice. Currently, the facility requires lawmakers to arrange tours two weeks in advance.

Unlike other tours where lawmakers where kept at a distance, the Florida lawmakers were able speak with the children and were given greater access to the facility.

Reps. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Gardens Democrat, and Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, joined Nelson and Wasserman Schultz for the tour along with several local officials.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump pledged to stop separating families, but experts said the task of reuniting families who have already been separated would be extremely difficult. Some worry some children will never be returned to their parents.

The Homestead facility primarily houses children who entered the U.S. alone. But dozens of children who recently have been separated from their parents are also held there.

Nelson said those children have been in contact with their parents by telephone.

All of the lawmakers were concerned that only one employee at the Homestead shelter is tasked with reuniting these children with their parents and that person does not work on the weekend. 

Deutch said he was told that the average stay in the facility is 25 days.

Associated Press

The Homestead shelter has become a focal point for local protests against the Trump administration's immigration policies. The federal government has opened Homestead shelter and other facilities this week to journalists and lawmakers after previously being closed to the public.

On Friday, Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, toured the Homestead shelter.

"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.

 

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