Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and several other Democratic candidates came together on Friday after a contentious primary debate to visit a children’s shelter in Homestead and call for its closure.
‘You see here, a lot of people who may have been competing for the last couple of days but are absolutely on the same side and united,’ Buttigieg said of their visit.
The group – which included Kirsten Gillibrand, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper – was denied entry to the facility, which houses 2,700 migrant children separated from their families.
John Hickenlooper, Kirsten Gillibrand, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris were denied entry inside the Homestead Shelter for Unaccompanied Children
Pete Buttigieg, seen with Julian Castro and Kirsten Gillibrand, said the candidates were united in wanting the shelter closed
‘I’m a member of the homeland security committee,’ Harris told the guard at the gate, pointing out that Senate panel had jurisdiction over the facility.
The gang of five were the latest in a long line of Democratic contenders to visit the Homestead Shelter for Unaccompanied Minors.
With all of them in Miami – only 30 minutes north of the facility – for the debates, many of them made the trek down to see the shelter and criticize Donald Trump’s immigration policies, which have been back in the news after a photo of a drowned Salvadoran father and daughter trying to cross the Rio Grande went viral.
Joe Biden was the one notable no-show among Democrats when it came to visiting Homestead. Cory Booker did not make a visit either.
Harris, Buttigieg, Castro, Gillibrand, and Hickenlooper were allowed into a lobby area on Friday afternoon but not further inside to see the conditions the children are being held in.
But they made the most of their time outside the facility’s walls, talking with immigrants who shared their story, greeting children of immigrants, and thanking the protesters who are calling for the facility to be closed down.
The contenders also climbed step ladders to wave at the children being held on the other side of the fence. The kids are only let outside for an hour each day but the children – wearing distinctive orange hats – can be seen moving between the buildings.
The candidates waved signs, including red hearts, to show their support and shouted words of encouragement.
Kirsten Gillibrand shouts words of encouragement to the children behind the fence
Kamala Harris waves to the children being kept inside the facility
Harris comforts Lily, whose husband was deported
Harris accused the administration of committing ‘human rights violations’ with the running of such centers.
‘Let’s be clear about what’s going on here. There are people who are literally profiting off of the incarceration of children, Let’s just reflect on that. There are people who are profiting off of the incarceration of children,’ the California senator said.
Gillibrand echoed that it was about the kids living in the facility.
‘This is about children. I cannot tell you how angry it makes me when you walk up a child and deny them the time they need to play outside the time they need to be with loved ones as family members,’ she said.
The New York senator described the facility as a ‘prison.’ She railed against the president and the Republican Party for not closing the Homestead shelter.
‘What will it take for President Trump to have an ounce of compassion? What will it take for the Republican Party to have an inch of spine? I can’t tell you, Because we’ve not seen it,’ she said.
Buttigieg argued they have a right to see inside the tax-payer funded facility.
‘You and I paid for this place,’ he told the crowd, who cheered his words. ‘What is being done in that building is being done in our name and with our money. And It’s wrong. It is wrong.’
Castro accused the administration of hiding something.
Harris spent several moments talking to the protesters
Julian Castro accused the administration of hiding something
John Hickenlooper peers through binoculars over the shelter’s fence
Kamala Harris accused the Trump administration of human rights violations
‘We were stonewalled today by an administration and a private contractor that does not want us to see what is happening behind those walls. And it makes you wonder what the hell they are hiding,’ he said.
Harris took the led in greeting the protesters, coming off her strong debate performance from Thursday night. She hugged people and offered particular comfort to one woman, Lily, whose husband was recently departed.
The California senator took her by the hands and told her: ‘You are not alone. You are not alone. We are going to fight for your rights,’ she said. ‘Because families belong together.’
Buttigieg, who speaks seven languages, spoke to two little girls in Spanish. He also addressed the crowd in Spanish.
The candidates arrived separately but met together at the facility to try to get inside.
Buttigieg congratulated Harris on her debate performance.
Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who represents the district Homestead resides in, invited the 2020 contenders to visit and led them on a tour.
Marianne Williamson arrived at the facility as the other Democratic contenders were wrapping up their tour. She also greeted the protesters and also climbed a ladder to wave a sign of support to the children being kept on the other side of the fence.
Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Bill de Blasio, Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, and Eric Swalwell have all stopped by the Homestead facility this week.
All were denied a tour of the facility but used the visit to highlight the center’s existence, tout their immigration policies and support the protesters.
O’Rourke, who visited Thursday, stood on a ladder across the street from the center so he could see some of the children moving between buildings.
He yelled, ‘we love you,’ and other encouraging words in Spanish to the teens.
Harris and Gilibrand join protesters in waving across the fence
Bernie Sanders (left) and Beto O’Rourke (right) visited the Homestead migration detention facility on Thursday morning. They were the fifth and sixth candidates to make the stop
O’Rourke visited the center the morning after he took stage on the first night of the first Democrat debates
The facility has become a popular stop for candidates in Florida for the debates
Sanders appeared at the site about an hour before O’Rourke, spoke briefly with some demonstrators and media, then went inside the lobby area.
‘Hi, I’m Senator Bernie Sanders, how are you?,’ he said to staff at the gate. He, too, was denied a tour of the facility.
Jane Sanders, the senator’s wife, who also visited Homestead on Tuesday, said her husband’s first executive order as president would be to put an end to migrant detention facilities.
Staff for the facility have said that lawmakers would be able to get a tour with the proper paper work filed via a formal request.
O’Rourke said this is not good enough, and that lawmakers should be able to get into such facilities like the one in Homestead with no notice at all.
He said that his plan, if he were to become president, would ‘make sure that any federal funding tied to these facilities is conditioned on transparency.’
Elizabeth Warren rallied with protesters at the Homestead shelter for children on Wednesday
Amy Klobuchar met with protesters outside the shelter on Wednesday
The Homestead shelter for unaccompanied children has become the center of attention as Democrats head to Florida for the first primary debates, and especially after a young father and his daughter died trying to cross illegally into the U.S.
‘That you don’t have to give the operators – the for profit operators – two days notice, or a week notice,’ Beto told reporters and demonstrators gathered at Homestead. ‘You, as a member of Congress, can show up unannounced to ensure that there’s true accountability and transparency for how these shelters are run.’
Elizabeth Warren visited the center Wednesday morning ahead of her debate tie to talk to protesters who are demanding it be shut down.
‘We are better people than this,’ she said.
The Massachusetts senator stood on a ladder with Summit, the 8-year-old daughter of a Homestead protester, and waved to children who could be seen walking between different buildings behind the shelter’s fence.
Summit told Warren that the teenager at the facility only have an hour at a time to play outside and aren’t allowed to hug each other.
The children held at the temporary holding facility, some for a few dozen days, wear fluorescent orange hats and – from ladders across the street – can be seen being escorted in groups of less than 10.
Warren made it a point during her visit to the center to speak with children attending the demonstrations with their parents.
Amy Klobuchar also visited the center Wednesday afternoon before participating in that evening’s Democratic presidential debate.
Rep. Eric Swalwell went on Monday.
‘We are looking into a camp, a camp of children cruelly confined here,’ Swalwell said when documenting the experience on his social media. ‘They don’t belong here. They belong with their families.’
The Homestead center – where nearly 2,500 kids of migrants can be held without their parents and is the largest detention center for children in the country – is about 30 minutes south of the debate stage.
Homestead Shelter for Unaccompanied Children
Can hold up to 2.350 children
It’s the only youth shelter for migrants operated for a profit
The Homestead contract with the Department of Health and Human Services is worth up to $220 million
It opened during the Obama administration, closed briefly and was reopened in March 2018 amid a surge in illegal border crossings
Children between the age of 13-17 are at the shelter, which opened during the Obama administration, closed briefly and was reopened in March 2018 amid a surge in migrants crossing the border.
Border Patrol reported in January that more than 5,000 ‘unaccompanied alien children’ have been apprehended at the border. Most are sent to the Homestead Shelter for Unaccompanied Children or similar facilities throughout the country.
The shelter has stopped letting journalists and visitors inside its doors. Protesters are a regular presence outside its gates, demanding it be shut down.
Melissa Taveras, media strategist for the Florida Immigration Coalition, said that teens at the facility are usually transported there and held for a few days while they fill out paperwork, like visas or green card applications, so they can stay in the U.S. legally.
She says, however, that they are advocating for the facility to shut down, and for these individuals to have the opportunity to go through this process while with family that is , in some cases, just a few miles away from the center.
‘What happens with a zero tolerance policy,’ Taveras said, referencing a Trump administration immigration policies, ‘what that immigrants were criminalized. So with this criminalization, is where the detentions started.’
Critics call it an imprisonment camp or an internment camp.
HHS officials said the average stay is 36 days.
But court filings – based on a tour of the shelter attorneys conducted in March – paint a different picture.
It describes ‘prison-like’ rules where children can only talk to relatives on the phone for 10 minutes twice a week; showers are limited to five; meal time are 15 minutes. Children are not allowed to hug or touch one another.