February 19, 2019

Members of Congress: Homestead Shelter is Part of a Broken and Morally Bankrupt System

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA– Today, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26), a member of the House Judiciary Committee and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, led a delegation to the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Migrant Children. Homestead is the largest facility for unaccompanied children in the country run by a for-profit corporation that is also rapidly expanding. Following their visit to Homestead Temporary Shelter, the Members briefed the press on the conditions at the shelter and the standards of care provided to the children detained there:

Highlights from today’s press conference: 

Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26) Beginning at 0:01: “I can tell you that as a mother it was very difficult to walk through the Center. It has a prison-like feel. We walked into a room that has bunk beds where 144 kids are sleeping in one area. We saw kids that were eating in a tent; I don’t know how many kids were eating there.

“I did get the opportunity to speak to some children. I spoke with a young girl who’s been at the center for 9 months. She was separated from her aunt crossing at the border. So, it does seem like there are children who have been separated from their family members at the border. What I did not see, and this is a message for the Trump administration, I did not see criminals, I did not see gang members. I saw kids, who have hope, that this country will welcome them, as they welcomed you. Those kids are full of hope that we will welcome them and that they will be reunited with their family member.”

Chairman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) Beginning at 2:01: “As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had the opportunity now to visit facilities that are run by border patrol and their processing centers in Texas, HHS facilities, including the one here, ICE facilities. Although no federal agency has full responsibility for the migrants who make their way to the United States – it’s obviously multiple agencies – it is all part of a broken and morally bankrupt system in how we treat people who come to the United States and who seek asylum in the United States.

“The young boys and girls that we visited today in Homestead are the very ones on which Donald Trump has made his political career. The Congresswoman mentioned that she didn’t see any criminals or gang members there. These were young, hopeful kids. These are not invaders. These are people who are oftentimes frightened by what they left behind in their home countries and hopeful that the United States will be what it has been for generations of people from all over the world: a place of refuge, safety, and opportunity.

“I think there should be no profit motive in warehousing young migrant kids. This is part of a morally bankrupt system. This facility is a cross between what I’ve seen in Tornillo – the northern part of the facility is not a solid structure, a physical structure, it is more like a tent camp. We have a lot better job to do in terms of how we treat these young kids than what I saw at the facility here. Certainly what I saw at the border patrol facilities in Texas. And what we all saw at Tornillo.”

Congresswoman Donna Shalala (FL-27) Beginning at 5:01: “This was a chilling experience, not because the staff that works here isn’t trying to do the best for the children, but because the system itself is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable to keep children in these kinds of situations for a very long period time. We got rid of orphanages years ago because it was no way to bring up children.

“The definition of unaccompanied is much too narrow. If you don’t come with a parent, but you come with an aunt or an uncle or a cousin or a brother, you’re defined as unaccompanied. We need to get these children to family members much more quickly, and Congress will have the opportunity, particularly the House of Representatives, to look at what’s holding up the process, if it’s resources, or if it needs to be re-thought through, we need to provide those kinds of resources and make sure the leadership is there.”

Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (TX-29) Beginning at 7:01: “The bottom line is there’s concerns, as I’ve stated, the definition of unaccompanied minor, what is separation? They define it just separation from a parent. If they came with an uncle, an aunt, an older brother or sister, they’re not considered separated. We spoke with a number of kids and they all said they said they came with someone. But they were separated, so it’s still happening. It’s still unclear how they get here. They come from all over the country.

“Secondly, the thing that concerned me a lot really was the level of education instruction, the certification of teachers, the curriculum. I don’t understand why these facilities don’t subcontract out to the local school district, who know the business of teaching kids, to make sure that these kids not only have hope in their minds and their dreams but also an education for their future.

“And thirdly, I was very deeply concerned, as a former judge who started the teen court in Houston, and has dealt with a lot of juvenile offenders, why these children who committed no crime in this country are being shackled, in addition to being handcuffed, in addition to having some restraint on their person, why? There’s no reason to do that. And then their being sent to ICE. We have to ask ourselves what can we do, because we must do better. I know that I’ll continue to work with all these members of Congress and many others…Next week we’ll be having a hearing on Tuesday, specifically on the separation policy. So, we will get to the bottom of this. We will leave no stone unturned. Because we’ve got to make sure that these children are treated with dignity and with respect and with human kindness. No child should be treated inhumanely as I think they’re being treated here today.”

You can watch a full video of the press conference here.

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The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), founded in December 1976, is organized as a Congressional Member organization, governed under the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives. The CHC is dedicated to voicing and advancing, through the legislative process, issues affecting Hispanics in the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Territories.