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The South Florida Roundup

South Florida Congresswoman Says Visits To Homestead Shelter Won't Stop Despite Expected Shutdown

Al Diaz
Miami Herald
Protesters rallied outside the Homestead child detention shelter for weeks at a time. The facility's federal contract won't be renewed, according to Health and Human Services.

The Homestead detention center for migrant children is expected to close at the end of this month. The private prison company that runs the facility will not have its federal contract renewed when it expires Nov. 30.

The shelter has been at the center of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, especially the practice of detaining children of undocumented immigrants. Protesters camped outside the facility for weeks at a time, and the center attracted Democratic presidential hopefuls in June, when they held their first national debates in Miami.

Since August, no children have stayed at the center, even though it remained open. Between March 2018 and last August, more than 14,000 children passed through the facility.

Word of the center’s closing came in an email from the Department of Health and Human Services to South Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, whose district includes the Homestead facility.

She spoke with host Tom Hudson on the South Florida Roundup. Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: What was the rationale for not renewing the contract? Was there something specific that HHS cited in its e-mail to you about why it wasn't going to continue and renew the financial arrangement?

REP. DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL: No, they did not provide as much detail. And they never do. We've been communicating with them for months, and I'm still waiting to get the details on where the kids are at this moment. They've just generally told me that many of them have been reunited with sponsors or family members and others have been moved to permanent facilities. But they did not provide me much detail except that they are not renewing the contract and that the detention facility will remain in "warm status."

In the email to you, HHS talked about "fiscal prudence" for its decision. What you think the agency means by that?

In the e-mail that they sent to us, they mentioned fiscal prudence because they were not receiving the amount of referrals that they had been receiving in the prior year. Now, I don't truly think that it was done because of fiscal prudence. I think it was because of all the activism and the pressure that we were putting on the administration for them to not renew this contract. I had specifically asked for details on the contract. There's no reason why the federal government gave such a large contract to a for-profit company that had John Kelly on its board.

John Kelly, being the former chief of staff of President Trump. By referral, does that mean unaccompanied minor?

That's exactly right. They were getting a large number of referrals. This is what they were telling me and they wanted to keep that detention facility in a warm status because if those referrals increase, then they were saying that they need to make sure that they have a place to send them. But I don't think this is the right place for children.

When you talk about your oversight, now that the contract for the private operator will not be renewed, what's next for your process?

One of the things that I'm still working on, and I'm communicating consistently with Health and Human Services, is getting in detail answers as to where the kids have been moved. That's one of the parts of my oversight that will not end, that I will continue to be communicating with the department. Also I will go back and visit. I will go back to the Homestead detention facility just to talk to the employees, to see what is going on inside. It's my responsibility as a Congress member to make sure that we are not wasting taxpayer dollars. And I have some great ideas on what we could be doing with that land in Homestead.

Such as?

Technical training. We have so many young adults that are living in the community that need opportunities of education, not just to attend a two- or four-year college, but to learn job training skills.

The decision regarding the Homestead facility, in your estimation, is an economic decision? But not any signal of a shift of ideology toward the administration regarding immigration?

I think that the administration knew that this facility was located in a district with a representative that was going to be consistently conducting oversight. I don't think it had anything to do with their immigration policies. I don't think it had much to do with fiscal prudence. I think it had to do with the fact that it wasn't a convenient facility for them anymore.

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Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.
In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.