For the second time this month, a child detention center has turned away elected lawmakers attempting to see how undocumented children were being treated inside.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, both Democrats, were turned away from the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead, FL, on Tuesday. An employee of the facility, which is maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services and houses nearly 1,200 children, insisted they needed “two weeks notice” in order to allow them inside.
However, in video posted by Nelson, Wasserman Schultz can be heard explaining that she’d been told she and Nelson would be allowed inside.
It is unclear exactly who is being housed inside Homestead—migrant children who arrived in the United States alone, or those torn from their families as a result of the Trump administration’s new policy to separate undocumented children from their parents upon entry. Speaking with the Miami Herald, an HHS official declined to clarify who was being detained at the facility.
At a press conference following their attempted visit, Nelson placed the blame for the rejection squarely on HHS officials:
The company running [Homestead], which is a contractor, was happy to receive us. So I thought, back in Washington, in the secretary’s office, that they had thought better of what he had told me earlier. And what he told me earlier was that you had to have two weeks notice, you had to fill out the forms. I said ‘Mr Secretary, that is just bull-hockey. You know that is not true. I have a responsibility as oversight of your agency. We appropriate the monies that run your agency. In that capacity, we want to know that you’re doing your job right. And, at the same time, we have concern for the welfare and the caring of these children. And we want to see it.
I have reached out to HHS for clarification as to why the politicians were turned away from Homestead, and will update this story with their response.
Nelson and Wasserman Schultz’s attempt to enter Homestead came less than two weeks after Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley attempted to enter the Casa Padre detention center in Brownsville, TX. There, police were called on the senator, and he was eventually turned away. Since then, the facility—run by the private nonprofit contractor Southwest Key Programs—has allowed a small group of tightly controlled journalists to visit the center.