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HOMESTEAD(CBSMiami) — After being turned away Tuesday from a Homestead facility that houses migrant children, Senator Bill Nelson and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz returned to the facility for a tour on Saturday.
They gave the facility good marks for cleanliness and care of children, but they say they’re still alarmed by the lack of a federal plan to reunite youngsters with their families after being separated from them.
Wasserman Schultz told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that she would introduce legislation on Monday that would allow lawmakers to visit such facilities in a timely fashion, instead of having to give two weeks notice. She said a few hours notice should be all that is needed.
She also said she planned to visit other Florida facilities housing migrant children.
Sen. Nelson said, “We need to see these children be reunited with their parents. We are concerned about the emotional toll on the family. The facility here was nice and the children are cared for, but the big question is how to reunite some 2300 children nationwide with their families.”
The Homestead facility houses more than 1,000 children ages 13 to 17 in dormitories. They are waiting to be reunited with their families or paired with a sponsor in the U.S.
Nelson said “I was told that out of the 70 children who were separated from their families at the border, only a handful of them have not spoken with their parents on the telephone. The question now is how to get them back together.”
Wasserman Schultz said, “I will tell you right now it’s inexplicable why we could not get into this facility on Tuesday. This is a clean facility that is military-like and bare bones. There was no reason not to let us in. The children here are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and they seem happy.”
“They do get 2 phone calls a week of about 10 minutes with their families, but I can tell you that as a mother of children that does not seem like very much, she said. “There does not seem to be a recess to reunite the children.”
She said that she learned that children with mental health issues were sent to facilities that can help them.
Wasserman Schultz said she was concerned because “They only have personnel here Monday through Friday to work on the effort to reunify children with their families because DHS workers are only here Monday through Friday.”
Florida congressman Ted Deutch said that also concerned him.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson said she said had also toured two other facilities for migrant children including one in Texas and she said the Homestead facility “was serving its purpose.”
She said she was very concerned about the treatment of adolescent girls and she said she was able to make contact with some of them.
“I saw adolescent girls,” she said. “I said I love you and they said I love you. But it is abominable that they have been separated from their parents.”
“We have no plan in place to unify children with their parents,” she said. “The children are in the system through HHS, Health and Human Services, and their parents are in the system through Homeland Security. Those departments never merge.”
A delegation of state lawmakers and Miami-Dade Commissioners was denied entry to the facility because they had not provided two weeks notice.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan said, “I just want to check on the emotional well-being of these children separated from their parents. I want to see what is going on with the children.”
State Rep. Kionne McGhee said, “It’s not so much what the building looks like. It’s the psychological effects on the children and whether there could be a mental health crisis.”
State Sen. Annette Taddeo, State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava also expressed their ongoing concerns about the migrant children being housed at the Homestead facility.