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'We Need To Shut It Down': Commissioner Levine Cava Tours Homestead Detention Center

Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, a candidate for county mayor, hugs children from the Homestead Latinx organization WeCount outside the Homestead Detention Center on Friday, June 28, 2019.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava is calling for Homestead Detention Facility to be shut down. "This is a national disaster, we're being called kidnappers around the world," she said on Sundial.

Cava, a Democrat representing the county's district 8, was at the Homestead Detention Facility with Democratic presidential candidates Senators Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand last week. Only Cava was able to take a one-hour tour inside the Homestead children’s detention center, making her the first sitting commissioner from South Florida to do so.

In April, Cava launched her 2020 campaign for Miami-Dade County Mayor. Her campaign is focusing on the issues of transportation, affordable housing and climate resilience. The commissioner joined Sundial and discussed her visit to the Homestead children's facility and her election campaign for mayor.

This has been edited lightly for clarity. 

WLRN: Tell me, what did you see? 

CAVA: Well, first of all it is a very sterile setting in the sense that, you know, everything is very regimented. The children are walking in lines. It's a 12-to-1 ratio of staff to children.

Twelve kids per one staff? 

Correct. So, they're walking straightforward heads down, they're washing their hands, they're getting their meals in the cafeteria, they're attending classes. I saw all of that. So, physically I didn't see any cause for immediate concern. But what did concern me very much is the emotional status of these children. 

Did anything surprise you? 

First of all let's be really clear, the conditions at the border are horrific. So we're talking about a very different facility, one where the children are being sent here so you know let's just be clear, they're not sleeping on slabs. They have bunk beds. They have clothing. They're eating meals and showering and so on. What surprised me was the level of regimentation, that everything was so hyper controlled. They really have not a moment of free time. Siblings don't see each other necessarily, because they're all grouped by gender and by age. The amount of time that is dedicated to reuniting them is what is my biggest concern. 

This is an issue that's been brought up by a number of people on the commission, but also by Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell - the issue of an evacuation plan for hurricanes. 

We were told they've got one, that the federal government has one. We had no details, absolutely no details. I mean, we're talking 2,500 children and as many as 80 come in on a single day .... 70 or so were released, they said, the day before, so it's a constant churning. How do you evacuate 2,500 children rapidly and to where? So really, we don't have the other facilities to accommodate these children further upstate. 

What do you think should happen (to the Homestead Detention Facility)? 

I think that we need to shut it down. We are not pursuing what is happening in other parts of the country, which is foster placements. We have two agencies that are at capacity that do have some of the younger children, Boys Town and His House, but there are families that I know are willing to take these children and there are agencies with contracts with the federal government that have programs in Florida. But, they are not being asked to do a foster care program here, specifically Lutheran Immigrant Refugee Service and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Both of them are providing foster care contracts in other states. Why not here? 

Last week we had most of the Democratic candidates out there. Do you think (them being there) helps or is it a political stunt? 

Listen this is a national disaster, we're being called kidnappers around the world. I think it's very appropriate for presidential candidates to show that they're concerned. I think everyone should be showing that they're concerned. And I think that the response of the current administration is a political ploy. I do not think it's necessary.

Sherrilyn Cabrera is WLRN's PM newscast and digital producer.