Three Florida Democratic Congresswomen were verbally denied access into the Homestead temporary shelter for unaccompanied migrant children last Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), despite a new law mandating Congressional access there, the Miami Herald reports.
U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell said their denial is “illegal,” referencing Section 234 of bill 115-245 (the 2019 Department of Health and Human Services Appropriations Act), which was amended this year to say members of Congress can’t be prevented from “entering, for the purpose of conducting oversight, any U.S. facility used for maintaining custody of or otherwise housing unaccompanied alien children.”
HHS said they require a two-week visit notification from visitors to access the for-profit Homestead facility, owned by Comprehensive Health Services (CHS). CHS is the largest shelter for migrant children in the country, as reported by NPR.
“We have had significant interest for facility visits. To ensure a facility visit does not interfere with the safety and well-being of our [children], we require a minimum two-week notification at the convenience and availability of the facility. This has been policy since 2015,” the department told the Miami Herald in a statement Saturday.
“During our last visit to Homestead, we witnessed children living in cramped, prison-like conditions,” the congresswomen said in a joint statement, referring to a tour of the facility earlier this year. “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.”
The move to bar the congresswomen comes just days after the Trump administration announced it would be expanding the facility to detain as many as 3,600 children there, reports the Miami Herald.