“This practice needs to stop now,” declared Gov. Rick Scott in strong opposition to President Donald Trump‘s immigration policy leading to the separation of children from families,
In a letter Tuesday to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Scott claimed no direct knowledge of what is going on at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, citing only “unconfirmed reports” that it may be housing children forcibly taken from their parents under Trump’s new zero-tolerance policy against undocumented immigrants.
But the Republican governor also made it clear he breaks with Trump and much of the Republican Party regarding the continuation of the policy, which has led immigration officials to split up families and send the children, even toddlers and babies, to live in big detention centers alone, while their parents are held and prosecuted somewhere else for illegally entering the country and prepared for deportation.
“I have been very clear that I absolutely do not agree with the practice of separating children from their families,” Scott wrote. “This practice needs to stop now.”
However, he did not make it clear whom exactly he is blaming. He concluded the letter by writing, “It is extremely frustrating that, after decades of inaction by the federal government, many innocent children are now paying the price for the failures of Washington. Congress must address our immigration system immediately.”
Scott asked the federal department to immediately notify federal, state, and local officials of undocumented children, separated from parents, who are coming to or placed in Florida. Scott also inquired about providing health care, education, and social services.
He also offered Florida’s help to reunite children with their parents.
Scott did not call for closure of the Homestead facility, nor did he make any references to events earlier Tuesday when Florida’s U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — Scott’s Democratic opponent in this year’s U.S. Senate election — and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz were denied entry into the facility to see how the children being housed there are doing.
Nelson’s re-election campaign spokesman Ryan Brown was unimpressed with Scott’s letter, saying if he wanted the policy to change, he communicated with the wrong federal official.
“President Trump could end this policy with the stroke of a pen,” Ryan said in a written statement. “If Gov. Scott really cared about these kids, he would have written this letter to Trump asking him to end this policy instead of asking HHS to confirm what we all already know.”
Reportedly, the Homestead center now has space for up to 1,000 children. What is unclear is how many individuals are actually being held there, and how many were actually separated from their parents. Scott noted in his letter that the facility had been used in the past to house minors who had crossed the border unaccompanied by parents. A wave of such migration infamously occurred in 2015, and many of the unaccompanied children who were detained then were sent to Homestead.
Nelson reported Tuesday afternoon that federal officials confirmed to him that 94 of the children currently held in Homestead were separated from their families.
In his letter, Scott expressed no direct knowledge of those children.
“In February of this year, the federal government notified Congress, including Florida’s congressional delegation, and state and local officials that they were planning to reopen the shelter in Homestead,” he wrote. “Recently, we received unconfirmed reports that this facility is now potentially holding children who have been forcibly removed from their families as a result of President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy toward illegal entry into the United States.
“Reunifying the children who have been separated from their families is very important, and the State of Florida stands ready to assist in this process,” Scott continued. “Please inform me on any measures the state can facilitate to help the reunification process.”