Politics

Homestead Congresswoman Says Migrant Camp Operators Keep Ignoring Her Questions

Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell
Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell Photo by Michael Campina
click to enlarge Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell - PHOTO BY MICHAEL CAMPINA
Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell
Photo by Michael Campina
The politician who previously represented Homestead in Congress — former Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo — seemingly did little to raise awareness about the kids inside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children. But the Democrat who replaced him, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, has made the detention center one of her main priorities. At the end of June, she pushed multiple Democratic presidential candidates to visit the facility. She's also steadily been sending inquiries about the children to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which operates the detention facility.

But yesterday the congresswoman publicly rebuked ORR in an open letter, revealing the agency hasn't bothered to respond to any of her inquiries about conditions inside the migrant camp, including her requests to simply view the facility's hurricane evacuation plan.

"This letter serves as a follow up to numerous requests that I have made to your office, both in person and through official correspondence, seeking information relating to the operation of and living conditions at the Homestead Temporary Shelter,” Mucarsel-Powell wrote. “To date, my office has not received any official correspondence from you regarding my repeated requests to view the hurricane and natural disaster evacuation plan allegedly in effect for the Homestead Temporary Shelter.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which runs ORR, did not respond to a message from New Times yesterday. But in May, the Miami Herald reported it was unclear whether the people in charge of the Homestead camp had a proper hurricane evacuation plan despite the fact that the facility is supposed to hold as many as 3,200 kids and is in part made from tents that could easily blow away in a storm. The camp sits in the second most vulnerable area for hurricanes in all of South Florida.

Then, in June, Mucarsel-Powell's office told the Herald that ORR had finally responded to her — and claimed the facility definitely, totally has an evacuation plan. But the congresswoman was not allowed to see it.

"The administration refuses to answer to the American people, and we’re insulted by their lack of accountability," she told the Herald in June. "It’s not just their constitutional duty to respond to our inquiries; they ought to have a plan in place by now."

Now, Mucarsel-Powell says ORR is ignoring continued requests she's sent for more information about how children are treated inside the compound. She attached to the letter a list of 51 questions — inquiring about everything from a basic count of the kids at the compound as of July 5, to the number of children who might have been separated from other family members (e.g., siblings) by immigration agents, to the nutritional quality of the food and whether kids are allowed personal phone time. She's also asking for information about the quality of medical care, such as how long kids must wait to see doctors, and about sexual misconduct reported inside the detention center.

Last, she's demanding that ORR provide her with a copy of the federal government's contract with Caliburn International, the for-profit company that runs the migrant camp on behalf of the government.

In a news release yesterday, her office hinted that if ORR does not begin complying with basic requests for information about the shelter, the congresswoman "may be forced to explore legal avenues to obtain the information."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.