Florida lawmakers demand migrant teen facility be shut down


FILE – In this Feb. 19, 2019 file photo, youngsters line up to enter a tent at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead, Fla. Democratic lawmakers Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Donna Shalala and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are demanding that the Trump administration shut down the Florida migrant teen facility and release hundreds of children to small shelters or relatives. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

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MIAMI (AP) — Three Democratic lawmakers demanded Tuesday that the Trump administration shut down the country’s largest child migrant facility in Florida and release hundreds of teens to small shelters or relatives.

South Florida U.S. representatives say their decision comes after a recent federal court filing by immigrant advocates with hundreds of pages of teens describing “prison-like” conditions endured in the Homestead, Florida facility.

Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Donna Shalala and Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the document “provides more disturbing details about the mental and physical damage being inflicted by the prolonged detention of these children.”

The children testified they are allowed limited phone calls and told to follow numerous strict rules or risk prolonging their detention or facing deportation. Many said they had limited access to their social workers and described frustration at the process of reunification with relatives or sponsors.

“The latest court documents detail heartbreaking conditions that hundreds of children endure there every day. This must come to a quick and sensible end, one that prioritizes the welfare of these young people,” said Rep. Wasserman Schultz in a statement.

The motion was filed Friday by the National Center for Youth Law and other organizations in a Los Angeles federal court.

Lawyers advocate for the release of the teenagers to state-licensed facilities or relatives within 20 days under a decades-old settlement governing the care of detained immigrant children. The government’s Office of Refugee and Resettlement says that because it is an “influx care facility” on federal property, it is not subject to local licensing standards.

A bill by two Democrats — Sen. Jeff Merkley, from Oregon, and Democratic Rep. Judy Chu, from California— already proposed earlier this year outlawing the Homestead facility because of the lack of license.

The Florida representatives have paid several visits to the controversial facility pointing out the conditions were harsh and average stay was long. But they had not called for the facility to be closed, expressing concerns about where 2,200 children would go next.

The government announced in April it was expanding to possibly house up to 3,200 migrant teens.

Last month, the three lawmakers also officially requested a government watchdog agency to investigate how the private contractor, Comprehensive Health Services, tied to former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly secured a no-bid contract to run the facility.

The umbrella company, Caliburn International, announced last month that Kelly was appointed to the board of directors.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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