Photo via U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
The Homestead compound for migrant children in 2016.
On Monday, U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell were denied access to a government-run migrant children shelter in Homestead when they attempted to tour the facility.
In a press release over the weekend, the three South Florida congresswomen signaled that they'd attempt to enter the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children on Monday. But when they tried to do so this morning, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services denied their initial request, the congresswomen said at a subsequent press conference.
They claimed the denial of access is a direct violation of the law.
An HHS spokesperson claims the denial of entry was per agency protocol.
"To ensure a facility visit does not interfere with the staff's ability to provide for the safety, well-being or privacy of unaccompanied alien children (UAC), especially during a period of high influx such as the present, we require a minimum two-week notification for the facility visit. This has been HHS policy since 2015," the spokesperson said. "It meets our current statutory obligation to provide members of Congress with facility access. Indeed, most members of Congress who have sought tours this year have worked with us collaboratively and without objection to schedule tours under the policy."
The congresswomen opted to tour the facility following the Trump administration's announcement last week that they planned to dramatically expand the number of beds at the temporary detention center.
In January, federal officials announced their intention to expand the facility from 1,350 beds to 2,350. Last week, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, again, announced a plan to expand the facility from 2,350 to 3,200 beds this month – a 140 percent increase in capacity in just four months.
"During our last visit to Homestead, we witnessed children living in cramped, prison-like conditions," said Wasserman Schultz, Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell's joint statement over the weekend, referring to congressional Democrats' tour of the facility in February. "The idea to force even more children into an already full detention facility is not only unsafe, but is cruel and violates basic tenets of human decency."
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