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Homestead Tour Leaves Congressional Committee With More Questions than Answers

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz talks to press outside of the Homestead detention center.
Gerard Albert III
Debbie Wasserman-Schultz talks to press outside of the Homestead detention center.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives oversight committee toured the Homestead child detention center Monday morning. 

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was among the group of 11 that also included former Florida Governor and now Representative Charlie Crist and presidential candidate Tim Ryan.

“We did not get a neutral last minute picture of what is going in this facility,” said Wasserman Schultz, who has toured the facility before. An application process is required weeks in advance in order to visit the detention center. 

Schultz said it has been difficult for children to get sponsors because addresses and contact information of sponsor families are being collected and shared with the Department of Homeland Security. A lawsuit was filed in January after the Southern Poverty Law Center found that the information was being used to engage in immigrant enforcement actions.

Between July 3-14, after they were notified of the congressional visit, officials said 1,000 children were moved from the facility but did not share the records of where they were sent. They could have been moved to another facility, reunited with family or a sponsor family. Schultz said the population of the facility was now near 1,300.

Another issue rose up after the tour. The education facility was noisy and unregulated.

The teachers available are not state-certified and neither is the curriculum. Instead Comprehensive Health Services, who run the facility, give children an academic assessment they created.

Former Governor Charlie Crist also toured the facility and spoke shortly about the education area.

Former Governor Charlie Crist spoke about the need for education at the center.
Credit Gerard Albert III / WLRN News
Former Governor Charlie Crist spoke about the need for education at the center.

“It’s a joke. You couldn’t even hear yourself think,” he said. 

Earlier this year, Senate approved $2.9 billion for the care of migrant children and Democrats in the House formed an oversight committee.

“This is what oversight looks like,” Crist said. 

Members of the committee said they will watch how funds are being used, what care children are receiving and how long it takes for children to be reunited with family or sponsors.

Schultz also brought attention to the lingering issue of hurricane preparedness.

Officials said they have a hurricane evacuation plan, but have not shared it with Congress or the Florida Department of Emergency Management according to Schultz. 

Officials told Schultz they would give a briefing about their plan, but will not share locations where children will be going.

“We are responsible, in Florida, for making sure everyone can get to safety and we [elected officials] are entitled to that information and we are going to continue to press for it,” she said.

Copyright 2019 WLRN 91.3 FM

Gerard Albert III is a senior journalism major at Florida International University, who flip-flopped around creative interests until being pulled away by the rush of reporting.