In response to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement that the number of beds will be significantly expanded at Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Alien Children, Representatives Donna Shalala (FL-27), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23), and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26) attempted to tour the facility after being denied days before.
Last June, Wasserman Schultz introduced the Congressional Access to Children’s Detention Facilities Act, which was incorporated into the 2019 Department of Health and Human Services Appropriations Act. It states: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to prevent a Member of the United States Congress from entering, for the purpose of conducting oversight, any facility in the United States, used for purposes of maintaining custody of or otherwise housing unaccompanied alien children.”
Indeed, Mucarsel-Powell and Shalala visited the facility in February as part of a larger oversight delegation, surveying it shortly after the last facility expansion was announced.
However, despite the new law, HHS officials indicated that the three Congresswomen will be denied access on Monday morning.
In a joint statement, the three Congresswomen said:
“Denying entry to oversee the conditions and care provided to the unaccompanied children in the Homestead facility would not only be a breach of transparency and confidence in the care provided there, it would violate the law. A similar denial of access occurred there a year ago, and Congress specifically addressed it by ensuring Members would have unencumbered access to such facilities to conduct our constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities. Given long-held concerns about the Homestead facility’s lack of staffing, space, education and other services, the recent announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that it will dramatically expand the number of beds there merits immediate scrutiny. The Department’s initial refusal to allow entry there under these current circumstances is deeply troubling. Violating the law is never acceptable, and certainly not in this critical moment.”
“During our last visit to Homestead, we witnessed children living in cramped, prison-like conditions,” the joint statement said. “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.”