MIAMI (CBSMiami) – U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell was in Homestead Tuesday morning, leading a congressional delegation on a visit to the Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Migrant Children.
Mucarsel-Powell was accompanied by fellow Democratic Representatives Donna Shalala of Florida and Texas Representatives Sylvia García and Joaquín Castro. Castro is also Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC).
They were all seeing the facility for the first time.
“Not only to see how the children are being housed and how they are treating them, but also to get an understanding as to why they are being kept for over 60 days. What is the plan for them to reunify them with their families?” Mucarsel-Powell explains.
They addressed the media before heading inside.
The Homestead shelter is said to be the largest facility for unaccompanied children in the country.
Currently, the Homestead shelter houses about 1,575 children between ages 13-17. Seventy-five percent are boys and 25 percent are girls.
In December, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would be expanding the number of beds at the facility from the current 1,600 to 2,350
“I’ve had an opportunity now to visit facilities— border patrol facilities, ICE facilities, HHS facilities in Texas, New Mexico, and Florida in just a few minutes,” Castro says. “What we’ve seen so far has been extremely troubling.”
Castro says the Trump Administration has put in place an “immoral” system when it comes to how these migrant children are being handled.
This is a federal facility, meaning it adheres to different standards than the state level and these representatives say they want to learn how they can provide some oversight.
“Our board of education in Miami-Dade can not, does not have responsibility for overseeing the education that’s provided in this facility,” Shalala says. She says the services are provided by a for-profit company and would like to see non-profits instead.
Another concern is the cost.
A representative from the Department of Health and Human Services previously said due to the fact this is a temporary shelter that needs to be ready quickly, it has a higher operational cost.
It equals out to roughly $750 dollars per child, per day, which is more than other centers in the country
“This is about 3 times more,” García says. “So my first question is: are they getting three times better the level of care when it comes to medical screening for any counseling or mental health services?”
After the tour, lawmakers addressed what they saw.
“I saw kids who have hope,” Mucarsel-Powell said.
She then paused and tried to hold back tears.
“I’m sorry. I have kids who are similar ages. It’s very tough,” the congresswoman said.
The democratic lawmakers are now looking to see what can be done for changes.
Congresswoman Shalala said she will ask the House of Representatives to change the definition of “unaccompanied minor” to reunite children with families.
“If you don’t come with a parent, but you come with an aunt, an uncle , a cousin, or a brother, you’re defined as unaccompanied. We need to get these children to families.”
She also said when children become adults at the facility, they’re taken by ICE. Shalala describes it as being shackled and taken to a prison.
Since the facility is run by a private company but the federal government is there for oversight, Congressman Castro said that has to change.
“I think there should be no profit motive in warehousing young migrant kids. This is a part of morally bankrupt system, Castro said.
The shelter initially opened in 2016 after a record number of migrant children came across the border. It closed in 2017 but reopened in March last year to accommodate an influx of children.