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Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala at one of the rare tours of a detention facility in Homestead. Image via The Hill.

Federal

Homestead detention facility to deny Democratic congresswomen access

Democrats say denying access violates the law.

A Homestead refugee detention facility plans to deny three Florida congresswomen access to the facility.

U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, all Democrats, planned to visit the Homestead Office of Refugee Resettlement.

The representatives issued a joint statement slamming the decision.

“Denying entry to oversee the conditions and care provided to the unaccompanied children in the Homestead facility would not only be a breach of transparency and confidence in the care provided there, it would violate the law,” the statement reads.

Wasserman Schultz and then-U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson were similarly denied entry to the facility last year.

After that happened, the statement notes, Congress took action.

“Congress specifically addressed it by ensuring Members would have unencumbered access to such facilities to conduct our constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities,” the statement reads.

“Given long-held concerns about the Homestead facility’s lack of staffing, space, education and other services, the recent announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that it will dramatically expand the number of beds there merits immediate scrutiny.”

Wasserman Schultz sponsored the access law.

President Donald Trump’s administration this week announced a major expansion in the Homestead facilities, from 2,350 to 3,200 later this month. That comes after a boost from 1,350 beds to 2,350 beds in January.

In total, Democrat point out, that’s a 140-percent increase in child bed capacity in just four months.

Notably, Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell toured the facility after the last expansion in beds.

The detention of refugees and treatment of immigrants and family separation by federal officials became a major campaign issue last year.

But this moves beyond political debate and into lawlessness, the congresswomen said.

“The Department’s initial refusal to allow entry there under these current circumstances is deeply troubling,” the statement reads. “Violating the law is never acceptable, and certainly not in this critical moment.”

Other Congressional leaders already warned that if officials denied visitation to members of Congress, there could be consequences.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chair of the Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, on Friday said so much in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

“The representatives intend to visit the facility to conduct oversight of the condition of the facility and care received by the unaccompanied alien children,” DeLauro wrote.

“If the Department of Health and Human Services denies them access, the Department would be in violation of the law.”

She urged the department to ensure Homestead officials complied with statute.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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