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 DurbinKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Pressley on Kavanaugh impeachment: 'Deeply disturbing' that a justice 'could have this many allegations' MORE (Ill.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Overnight Energy: Democrats call for Ross to resign over report he threatened NOAA officials | Commerce denies report | Documents detail plan to decentralize BLM | Lawmakers demand answers on bee-killing pesticide Oregon Democrats push EPA to justify use of pesticide 'highly toxic' to bees MORE (Ore.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenProgressive tax-the-rich push gains momentum Senators pressure Trump to help end humanitarian crisis in Kashmir Democratic candidates are building momentum for a National Climate Bank MORE (Md.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseKavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Senate GOP pledges to oppose any efforts to 'pack' Supreme Court Senate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility 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 BlasioGabbard drives coverage in push to qualify for October debate Poll: Biden holds five-point lead over Warren among New York Democrats New York City won't penalize students for skipping school for climate rally 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.”