HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Three Florida Democratic lawmakers were denied entry into a detention center in South Florida for migrant children.
- 3 lawmakers denied entry into migrant detention center
- Wasserman Schultz says facility is housing about 1,000 teens
- Nelson said he was told it would take 2 weeks to get access
Sen. Bill Nelson, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and State Rep. Kionne McGhee, whose district is near Homestead and is the incoming Democratic leader in the Florida House, tried to tour the Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead Tuesday, after hearing reports that children detained in Texas went sent to the facility.
"There is a quality of life issue here," McGhee said. "We've heard it. Are they sleeping on floors? Are they sleeping in cages? No one knows. Allow us five to 10 minutes to set eyes on these children. We'll be satisfied. We're not asking for a day, we're not asking to do a documentary, we're simply asking to lay eyes on these children to ensure that their safety is in place."
Wasserman Schultz had said the facility was being used to house an estimated 1,000 teenagers. The teens had either arrived at the border as unaccompanied minors, or where they were separated from their families.
The facility, which housed unaccompanied migrant children under the Obama Administration, was reopened as a temporary facility. Wasserman Schultz says she had been told by immigration activists and attorneys that the center had been open for several months.
HHS just blocked us from entering its facility in Homestead, Florida to check on the welfare of the children being held here. They are obviously hiding something, and we are going to get to the bottom of this. pic.twitter.com/q4m6Zd0ck2— Senator Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) June 19, 2018
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services oversees the program, while a private company, Comprehensive Health Services, has been contracted to run the facility.
Wasserman Schultz says her staff spoke to Comprehensive Health Services officials, and they were told they would be welcomed in. She also said an official for the Office of Refugee Resettlement told them it would at least 24 hours advance notice.
Wasserman Schultz said the facility and the agencies were noticed by the lawmakers last night.
"It is absolutely outrageous that we are being denied access," Wasserman Schultz said. "Even if you give them that we should give them more than half a day's notice, we should be able to walk in anytime because they should be prepared for us to come, and if they're not hiding anything, there shouldn't be any issue."
A statement by HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan said the agency welcomed lawmakers who wanted to visit the facilities.
WATCH: Three Florida Democratic lawmakers, including @SenBillNelson, were denied entry into a detention center in South Florida for migrant children. Nelson said it would take 2 weeks for them to get access, which he called "balderdash."— Spectrum News 13 (@MyNews13) June 19, 2018
FULL STORY: https://t.co/fzf2jAtCHm pic.twitter.com/1DGijE9v5s
But Nelson said Hargan told him it would take two weeks for them to get access. Nelson called that "balderdash."
Nelson said the lawmakers have oversight of Health and Human Services, and approve their money, and they had a right to make sure people were doing their jobs.
"They are obviously trying to cover up," Nelson said. "They don't want us to see it."
"Clearly they are trying to throw as many obstacles in the path and drag out the length of time they will allow us, whether they allow us or not, so they can shine things up," Wasserman Schultz said.
Nelson said the denial of entry, along with the child separation policy, were not good reflections of the Trump administration.
"They know they have done wrong, they are starting to get this reminded every moment," Nelson said. "And yet they are embarassed and don't want us to check on the comfort and welfare of these children. This is absolutely ridiculous. I am ashamed of this administration."
Nelson continued his attacks on the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday.
The power to end this shameful chapter in our nation’s history lies with the president and his pen. He can sign an executive order today. He doesn’t need Congress to act. He and he alone is allowing this shameful practice to continue. And he, and he alone, can stop it right now. pic.twitter.com/YNtQzu4XgY— Senator Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) June 20, 2018
A growing number of Republican lawmakers from South Florida have condemned the Trump administration policy, which calls for separating families crossing the U.S. border illegally.
Among the Republicans is Sen. Marco Rubio, who tweeted Tuesday that lawmakers need to "change the law so we can hold families together while awaiting expedited hearings."
All of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate have co-sponsored a bill that would keep families together. A similar bill is in the House.
Republicans are introducing similar bills.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.