HOMESTEAD (CBSMiami) — South Florida is home to the largest child detention center for unaccompanied minor immigrants in the United States.
Last week, several Democratic presidential candidates that were in Miami for the first primary debate made sure to stop by the facility, but none were allowed inside.
Tuesday, south Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson led a congressional delegation of Democrats to inspect the detention center.
They went inside around 1 p.m. with the purpose of investigating the living conditions of the migrant children
Joining Wilson was fellow South Florida Rep. Donna Shalala (FL-27), Rep. Bennie Thompson (MA-02), Rep. Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Rep Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Rep. Katharine Clark (MA-05), Rep. John Lewis (GA-05) and Rep. Madeleine Dean (PA-04).
After the tour, the delegation said the children are being kept too long and not getting the education they deserve
“This administration has shown a blatant disregard for the mental and physical health of children in custody. They’re spending weeks, and even months, in detention conditions that are tantamount to living under house arrest. We are upset about it,” said Wilson.
“We came today to say we will shut this down because this does not have to be this way. These children can be processed and sent to foster care, they can be processed and sent to next of kin, aunts, grandmothers, people in the community who know them and that’s what we are fighting for today,” she added.
Wilson said she’s heard the horror stories about the deplorable conditions at the migrant facilities along the southern border, she was pleased to see that wasn’t happening here. But she did have concerns.
“While these children here seem to be looked after in a clean environment, their physical appearance is not always a gauge for their mental health. So we have to be careful,” she said.
“I came here to learn. I have been deeply moved by what I have seen, what I have observed, and I will go back to Washington D.C. within the next few days much more determined to hold onto something that I have been believing in for some time. That when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to say something, you have to do something,” said Rep. Lewis.
Wilson added there was one thing they didn’t see on their tour.
“I came specifically looking for girls. Where are the girls? I did not see the girls. So I am not prepared to leave this facility until I see the girls. Until the girls can look me in my face and say ‘I am okay, I am being taken care of, I know how to get my feminine products’. I am not leaving this facility today even if I have to spend the night, even if I have to spend two days, I am prepared to stay until I see the girls,” she said.
But Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell says the reason the children are not released has to do with the financial gains the for-profit company that owns the facility gets from detaining them.
“It is managed by a for profit company, making $2 million dollars a day. That is why they keep the kids in the facility,” said Mucarsel-Powell.
For Rep. Mucarsel-Powell, like the members of the delegation in attendance, she agreed shutting down the shelter would help reunite the children with their families or find them homes.
“The minute they decide to shut it down 80 percent of those kids can be reunited with their family, about 20 percent, the other kids, could go to Catholic charities or state licensed facilities can take the children in till they find a family or a sponsor,” she said.
WATCH: REP. WILSON’S COMMENTS AFTER THE TOUR
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.