Half of unaccompanied minors left Homestead facility but U.S. officials won't say where they went, Pocan says

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Washington, July 16, 2019 | comments
Lawrence Andrea
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

More than half of the unaccompanied migrant children who were living in a  Florida detention center are no longer there — but U.S. officials won't tell members of Congress where the children are now. 

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan told reporters Tuesday that administrators of the 3,200-bed facility wouldn't answer his questions about the children's whereabouts during a visit Monday to the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children.

"We didn’t get a whole lot of answers while we were there," said Pocan, of Madison. "I probably came back with more questions than answers."

Pocan said the number of children at the facility has dropped from about 2,700 to 1,300 in recent weeks. He attributed the sudden population drop to increased attention on detention facilities from Congress and the media. He added that the facility needed to downsize the population to at least 1,200 in order to be considered safe in case of a hurricane.

Governent officials also recently announced the Homestead facility will no longer accept additional children, according to the Miami Herald.

Still, Pocan said facility officials were unclear "why and where" the children were placed.

"Does that mean they were placed in homes or does that mean they were just transferred to other facilities because they had to decrease the numbers because this is one of the places that is getting a lot of attention?" he asked.

A June statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said children spend an average of 25 days in the Homestead facility. HHS said an "overwhelming majority of children" are released to family members in the U.S. to await immigration hearings. 

But Pocan said this "doesn't always happen." One girl at the detention center told Pocan she had been at the Homestead facility for 60 days and it took officials there nearly seven weeks to reach out to her brother who lives in the U.S., Pocan said. 

Pocan said he talked to Spanish-speaking children using his own knowledge of the language and a translation phone app. 

Homestead officials also would not elaborate on why it costs $750 per day for each child in the facility, according to Pocan. He said this cost "makes no sense" considering the children are "not living in the proper conditions" and not getting "any kind of education."

"It is so incredibly loud I don't know how anyone could possibly think," Pocan said. "Each teacher has a microphone and a little sound system that, even six feet away from the person, I could not hear because of the background noises."

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., also visited a migrant detention center in Texas on Saturday. She said in video posted to Facebook that she is concerned about the attitude immigration officials have toward the immigrants.

"They are very skeptical of people having legitimate concerns about their safety," said Moore of Milwaukee. "I think that probably has an impact on the type of service and care (the immigrants) get."

Pocan also on Tuesday slammed President Donald Trump's tweets earlier in the week suggesting to Democratic congresswomen who are not white to go back to "crime infested places from which they came." 

He called the president's comments "blatantly racist" but said the tweets are just a small part of a bigger problem that go beyond social media.

"(Trump's) entire policy at the border is a racist policy," he said. "It is based on stopping people with brown and black skin from coming into the United States. Until we can change all of that, we, unfortunately, have what appears to be a person who is a racist who is the president of the United States."

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