Senate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility

Senate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility
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A group of four Senate Democrats is urging the Trump administration to permanently close the nation's largest facility for housing unaccompanied migrant children.

Democratic Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Democratic senators introduce bill to push ICE to stop 'overuse' of solitary confinement Pentagon watchdog declines to investigate hold on Ukraine aid MORE (Ill.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocrats seize on report of FedEx's Jeff Merkley tax bill to slam Trump's tax plan Overnight Energy: Perry replacement faces Ukraine questions at hearing | Dem chair demands answers over land agency's relocation | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan MORE (Ore.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Senate Foreign Relations chair: 'Best' not to pass Turkey sanctions bill 'at this moment' On The Money: Retirement savings bill blocked in Senate after fight over amendments | Stopgap bill may set up December spending fight | Hardwood industry pleads for relief from Trump trade war MORE (Md.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocratic senators seek documents on Trump's alleged call for Barr press conference Senate committee advances budget reform plan Bipartisan Enzi-Whitehouse budget bill a very bad fix for deficits MORE (R.I.) wrote a letter Friday to the head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) arguing that the facility in Homestead, Fla., is unfit to house minors.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier this month that the facility was officially empty, though the senators pointed to a Miami Herald report saying the site could reopen as soon as October.

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“We appreciate your decision to effectively remove all children from the Homestead, Florida influx facility, and urge you to reject any future transfers to this facility, which is wholly unsuitable for vulnerable children and not in their best interest,” the senators wrote to ORR acting Director Jonathan Hayes, whose agency oversees the care of migrant children who are either unaccompanied or have been separated from their families.

The Homestead center was activated in February 2018 as a temporary emergency "influx" shelter by the ORR for minors crossing the border without their parents as a record-breaking number of referrals strained the agency’s existing capacities.

Besides urging the government to shutter the facility, the senators also urged the administration to end its contract with Comprehensive Health Services Inc. and its parent company Caliburn International to operate site.

The letter maintained that “the best environment for children is in a sponsor’s home, ideally that of a family member” and that if no family member is available for sponsorship, ORR should work to find “appropriate non-familial sponsors.”

“If children must be in institutional settings, they should be placed in permanent, state-licensed facilities,” the senators wrote, adding that if the demand for housing exceeds the abilities of state-licensed sites, contracts “should only be awarded to non-profit entities operating facilities holding fewer than 100 children.”

Democrats in both chambers of Congress have erupted over the government's contracts with for-profit companies in overseeing sites housing migrants. The facility at Homestead swiftly emerged as one of the most controversial locations after several visiting Democrats likened it to a prison.

“It looks like a prison. ... You’ve got a bunch of kids being marched around, teenagers ... and it does not look like a place where teenagers are supposed to be or families are supposed to be,” New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioDe Blasio knocks Bloomberg over stop and frisk apology Deval Patrick enters 2020 race De Blasio slams Bloomberg run for president: He 'epitomizes the status quo' MORE (D), a White House hopeful, said after a June visit. “Immediately I thought, ‘That’s a prison camp.’” 

The four senators who wrote to the Trump administration on Friday requested 24 hours’ notice prior to resuming the transfers of children to Homestead, including a written justification describing how the move “would be in a child’s best interest.”