MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is in South Florida ahead of this week’s first primary debates.
In a ball cap and slacks, Warren, as promised and in the searing heat, showed up Tuesday on the ground in Homestead outside of the controversial facility that houses migrant children.
Warren made the impromptu announcement at a town hall the night before; she mingled with ever-present protesters, shook hands, exchanged hugs and held a young girl in front of cameras.
“Our government is following a policy of inflicting maximum pain on families that flee trying to build a better life,” said Warren amid a crush of reporters.
The Homestead facility houses approximately 3,000 migrant children.
Warren described what she could see from the outside; the view from a ladder put up by demonstrators that allows people to peer over the fence beyond the secure gates.
“These were children being marched like soldiers, like prisoners from one place to another,” said Warren. This is not what we should be doing as a country. These children did not commit a crime, these children pose no threat to people here in the United States of America and yet they are locked up.”
It was a big day for big names outside the facility.
Actress and activist Alyssa Milano made an appearance in the morning, standing watch on the very same ladder.
“I’m moved to tears that this is happening in our country, in our name,” she said.
Neither Milano or Senator Warren ever made the attempt to get into the shelter.
Warren said her office put in a request and were told no ahead of time.
“We can’t get in,” she said. “It is a moral stain on the United States of America inflicted by Donald Trump. This is about showing up and saying ‘I’m here and she’s here and he’s here and she’s here and as the American people we will not put up with this.”
Caliburn Internation, the company that owns the Homestead facility denied Warren’s remarks and responded to her allegations, in a statement saying, “Caliburn International is very proud of our efforts to protect vulnerable, unaccompanied young people arriving in the United States. We operate temporary emergency shelters, not private prisons or detention centers. Those who suggest otherwise are intentionally creating a false and deceptive description to mislead the public and score political points. The truth is the children at the Homestead temporary emergency shelter are provided a wide range of services – medical and behavioral care, daily educational classes, recreational exercise both inside and outside. The physical and emotional well-being of each and every child is the shelter’s primary concern. The shelter is not “prison-like,” as some disingenuously assert. There are no children in cages. Every day at the Homestead shelter, over 4,000 bilingual Caliburn employees strive to provide the highest level of care and to unite each child with a vetted sponsor as swiftly as possible. Currently, we most often meet that goal in around 35 days.”
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar visited the facility Wednesday afternoon. She did not try to enter the facility.
Senator Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s office confirmed that Democratic presidential candidates Julian Castro, Senator Kamala Harris, Mayor Pete Buttigeg, Senator Kristen Gillibrand will also visit the site on Friday. They will likely not be allowed to enter the facility due to two week notice policy.
ABOUT THE FACILITY
The Homestead shelter, which is the only for-profit child detention center in the country, houses approximately 3,000 children, all ages 13 to 17 years old.
It is the largest child detention center in the United States for unaccompanied minors.
The facility is run by Caliburn International, a Virginia based company awarded a government contract to manage the center.
President Donald Trump’s former Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, is on the company’s board.
Caliburn International operates the facility under a no-bid contract that is worth more than $350 million.
They are waiting to be reunited with their families or paired with sponsors once they are screened by the U.S. government.
Many of the children are fleeing gang and domestic violence and will end up seeking asylum.
Children sleep up to 12 per room in steel-framed bunk beds, and warehouse-sized, air-conditioned white tents where minors attend classes and watch movies.
The facility has a command center. Inside are cameras, computers, and staff members who watch over the kids. They keep track of how many kids are in the shelter and how many are moved.
While numbers vary, officials say most are reunited with family members. Those who are not can be at the shelter for as long as 57 days. On average, a child’s stay there is about 25 days.
The children have school six hours a day and there are recreational activities.
At night, lights go out in the rooms at 10 p.m. but are left on in the hallways. The children are awakened each day at 6:30 a.m. for a full day’s program of activities and classes.
During the day, the kids are provided breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks.
The children meet with their attorneys once a week. They also have access to clinicians and social workers.
On their arrival, they are given a five day supply of clothes, laundry is done every other day.
The facility, contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services, is surrounded by chain-link fence, but there is no barbed wire. There are guards, but they are not armed. Doors have been removed from the dormitory bedrooms.