Congresswomen say Trump admin denying them access to center

Three Democratic congresswomen will be denied access by the Trump Administration to tour a government-run center for unaccompanied migrant children on Monday in Homestead, Florida, according to the members of Congress and the administration.

The three members — Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell — announced in a statement they were told they could not tour the facility and said a new law entitles members of Congress access to tour it. All three represent districts in southern Florida.

“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 members said in the statement.

The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed access was being denied in a statement to CNN.

“We have had significant interest for facility visits,” the HHS statement said. “To ensure a facility visit does not interfere with the safety and well-being of our [children], we require a minimum two-week notification at the convenience and availability of the facility. This has been policy since 2015.”

Regarding the law requiring members of Congress have access, an HHS official said this: “It meets our current statutory obligation to provide members of Congress with facility access. Indeed, most members of Congress who have sought tours this year have worked with us collaboratively and without objection to schedule tours under the policy.”

The government announced last week that the center will expand its capacity to 3,200 beds from 2,350 beds. The center is run by the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement.

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

Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell were part of a congressional delegation which earlier toured the facility in February.

“During our last visit to Homestead, we witnessed children living in cramped, prison-like conditions,” the joint statement said. “The idea to force even more children into an already full detention facility is not only unsafe, but is cruel and violates basic tenets of human decency.”

As part of an appropriations bill last year, Congress prohibited federal funds “from being used to prevent a Member of Congress from entering, for the purpose of conducting oversight, any U.S. facility used for maintaining custody of or otherwise housing unaccompanied alien children.”