Tulsi Gabbard rips Florida migrant facility: 'It's absolutely despicable'

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardSanders opens up 15-point lead in New Hampshire: Poll Yang qualifies for New Hampshire debate stage Poll: Bernie Sanders holds 9-point lead in New Hampshire MORE (D-Hawaii) this week said it was "absolutely despicable" that a facility housing migrant children in Homestead, Fla., is a for-profit entity.

“It’s a heart-wrenching situation and it is absolutely despicable,” the Democratic presidential candidate told Hill.TV during an interview that aired Friday. “Their business model — literally built around keeping those beds full rather than having the objective that we should all have in this country, which is reuniting these children with their families, immediately.”

Gabbard said she attempted to visit the facility but was not allowed access because she did not provide two weeks' notification. She said she was still able to get a first-hand look at the conditions.

“[We] stepped up on a ladder where we could see over the fence and into the kind of the big yard where they have tents set up and other buildings — hard buildings — around there,” she said. “Saw some of the kids who were walking from one building to the other and you know they’re kids.”

A spokesperson for shelter operator Caliburn International pushed back on Gabbard's remarks, alleging that the Democratic presidential hopeful did not take the proper steps to tour the shelter.

"If Congresswoman Gabbard had really wanted to learn about the children, the care provided at the shelter and the dedicated staff committed to safely placing each and every child with an appropriate sponsor, she would have taken steps to tour the shelter, not stand outside and use it as a campaign backdrop," the spokesperson said in a statement to Hill.TV.

"If she had taken the time to set up an approved visit, she would have seen that the Homestead temporary emergency shelter provides children with medical and mental health care, educational training and recreation." 

Gabbard's visit to the facility, which holds more than 2,300 children a day, came just a day after she took the stage along with with nine other 2020 hopefuls for the first round of Democratic debates in Miami on Wednesday evening.

Several of Gabbard’s competitors have also spoken out against the facility after touring it while in town for the debates.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden on whether Sanders can unify party as nominee: 'It depends' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Philip Morris International — HHS has no plans to declare emergency over coronavirus | GOP senator calls for travel ban to stop outbreak | Warren releases plan to contain infectious diseases Biden lines up high-profile surrogates to campaign in Iowa MORE (D-Mass.) said she saw migrant children walking around "like little prisoners," while New York City mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats turn to obstruction charge New York City bans cashless businesses How far will New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio go to protect undocumented aliens? MORE (D) compared it to a “prison camp.”

—Tess Bonn