Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart has called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to use his influence in the Trump administration to stop the siting of a new permanent, federal shelter for immigrant children in the Orlando area.
Stewart’s call, made in a letter sent Friday afternoon, comes because she is convinced the shelter would help perpetuate the federal policy of separating immigrant children from parents, and because DeSantis dismissed the issue, suggesting there was little he could do about it.
She is calling him out on that dismissal of the issue.
The News Service of Florida reported Friday that DeSantis said the state “doesn’t have much of a role” in the decision making process federal officials announced earlier this week. DeSantis said it was a federal issue.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, Office of Refugee Resettlement, sent email notifications to state and federal elected officials Monday. The messages advised that that office was starting the exploratory process of possibly finding a site, in Central Florida, for a new, permanent, federal shelter for children who crossed the border without papers and then were separated from their parents by U.S. border officials.
Stewart said she was deeply upset to see what she considered a shirking by DeSantis, someone who has contended that one of his strengths as Florida governor is strong influence in Washington D.C., starting with a close relationship with President Donald Trump.
“He has a lot of influence in Washington. He could stop this if he wants to,” Stewart said. “That’s what the letter is about: Please apply the pressure you have.”
In the letter, Stewart, who represents much of northern and eastern Orange County, declared her opposition to the federal government’s policies to forcibly remove children from their families. She suggests that a new shelter would only provide space to expand those policies. She notes that Florida already has three such facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, in Homestead, Miami Gardens, and Cutler Bay. She called that a huge problem
“I am requesting that you use your influence and authority as Governor to stop the possibility of a fourth center from being located in Central Florida,” Stewart wrote. “We have done enough, and have created severe consequences on the mental health and stability of migrant children. It is not the decision of these children to come into the United States and it is inhumane to forcibly remove them from their families.”
Stewart said she would not oppose a federal shelter for full families of refugees, but she opposed facilities being planned for separated families.
Her plea to DeSantis comes a day after she and fellow Orange County-based Democratic state Sens. Victor Torres and Randolph Bracy wrote to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seeking more information about their announced plan to locate a new facility in Central Florida.
The key question in that letter, which went out from Torres’ office, appeared to be this:
“What assurances can you provide to state and local governments, prior to the leasing and opening of these facilities, that they will be properly maintained and operated, meet all applicable health and safety regulations and that the civil liberties and basic human rights of all detainees will not be compromised?”