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Activists camp outside the Homestead detention facility as presidential candidates come and go. Photo by Jacob Ogles

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Homestead activists welcome presidential candidates, but want more action

“I would dare them to arrest me.”

A parade of Democratic presidential candidates will visit the migrant detention center in Homestead this week.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell came and spoke with protesters.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren came, followed by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard will swing through Thursday, Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Friday and so on.

But on any given day, you can find protesters outside the notorious center, where many of the children detained and separated from parents at the border now reside. Those working to focus more attention on conditions there welcome the attention. But they wish for more.

“I’d like to see them try harder,” said Joshua Rubin. “We are oriented in a different way than the politicians are. They stress civility even in situations i don’t think call for civility.”

That’s not to say activists aren’t happy to see pols arrive.

Kenneth Barnes has regularly protested outside the Homestead center. He also lives in New Hampshire, where presidential candidates spend a disproportionate amount of free time.

“I’ve been birddogging them since January that while they are down here, Homestead is only 29 miles away from the Arsht Arena,” he said.

“They should witness it, see the kids marching out in single file with guards around them. It will raise the spirit of the children and give visibility to the issue.”

Indeed, with a parade of presidential hopefuls stopping at Homestead through the week, a camp of national media has set up outside the center.

MSNBC on Wednesday did live stand-ups from outside the center. Warren granted interviews to national outlets stationed nearby.

But at the same time, none of the candidates for Congress, even members of Congress who have legal visitation ability guaranteed by law, have actually gone inside.

Klobuchar had a conversation with command for the center, outside the view of television cameras, but her efforts to enter were rebuffed. Swalwell demanded to talk with top command on Monday but it went nowhere.

Warren, activists say, never even tried to go inside. She’d been told by phone that wouldn’t happen.

“I wish they tried harder,” said Vielka Wambold, a Charlotte County activist. “I wish they were more forceful. It is against the law to deny them entry, but they have taken it at face value that there is a two-week notice requirement.”

That, activists say, is ridiculous. Lawmakers should be allowed to conduct surprise visits.

“A law says they can just walk into this place,” Rubin said. “I would dare them to arrest me. And think what good they would do getting arrested that way. It would be an amazing thing.”

The Brooklyn attorney has protested outside both the Homestead facility and a similar center in Tornillo, Texas.

He was here the day three Florida congresswomen — Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell — showed up. All were denied entry.

“I wanted to see all three of them in jail,” Rubin said.

But he still praises Mucarsel-Powell, who represents Homestead and has scheduled those appointments two weeks in advance: “She cares about the kids.”

One activist suggested it would be stellar if all the presidential candidates in town for the debate, all 20 of them, showed up at the same time to demand entry.

Meanwhile, the activists stationed outside the center on a regular basis continue to try to spark conversations.

Rubin doesn’t mince words when talking about the center. “I’m a Jew parked outside a concentration camp,” he said. “Nobody asks why I am here.”

Most of the gathered activists have no problem using words that when used by U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez caused a national uproar.

But Antonio Keyes, a Miami activist, said it’s silly to get into a debate about semantics.

“It’s obviously a concentration camp,” he said. “We need to be paying attention to what’s happening inside.”

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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