Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has twice been blocked from visiting one of the country’s largest detention centers for unaccompanied immigrant children in Homestead, and she’s tired of it.
The Broward Democrat introduced a bill on Monday night that gives members of Congress unfettered access to immigrant detention centers run by the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services or any contractors working on behalf of the agencies.
Wasserman Schultz’s bill, called the Help Oversee, Manage and Evaluate Safe Treatment and Ensure Access without Delay, or HOMESTEAD, Act, prohibits the White House from preventing members of Congress from entering any detention facility.
“This administration has proven it cannot be trusted to protect vulnerable people who have made a desperate journey to our country to escape violence and oppression,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “Congress must assert its constitutional authority to provide vigorous oversight of these facilities without giving administration officials days to stage-manage who and what visitors can see. If Congress can show up at these detention centers at any time, the administration will not be able to hide the horrors some of these children endure. Members of Congress must be able to see what daily life is truly like at these facilities, which can only be achieved through unannounced visits.”
Members of Congress, including Wasserman Schultz, have been able to get inside the Homestead facility and other similar facilities around the country, but only after providing about two weeks notice. The entire Democratic House delegation from Miami-Dade County, Reps. Donna Shalala, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Frederica Wilson, signed onto Wasserman Schultz’s bill.
Previously, Wasserman Schultz tried to include language in a federal funds package that prohibits members of Congress from being blocked from entry, but the policy has continued in recent weeks as Democratic lawmakers running for president like Sens. Kristen Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders along with Reps. Eric Swalwell and Tulsi Gabbard were blocked from visiting Homestead while campaigning in Miami around the first Democratic debates last month.
A host of lawmakers and advocacy groups have called for the Homestead detention center to close. In recent days, the shelter has been moving kids out to reduce the numbers to prepare in case of a hurricane. From as many as 3,000 kids a month ago, the shelter was down 1,100 as of last Thursday, and sources inside have told the Herald that hundreds more children are expected to be moved out in the next couple of days.
“Advance warning of our visits can lead to a skewed impression of the actual conditions inside these facilities,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Congress must be able to exercise its constitutional oversight authority and ensure that all migrants coming here are treated with dignity and humanity.”
Miami Herald reporter Monique O. Madan contributed to this report.