Congress

Florida Democrat warns of hurricane threats to detained migrant kids

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell pressed the Trump administration on its emergency preparedness at Miami’s Homestead Facility

Democratic U.S. House candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, pressed the Trump administration on its plan to evacuate the nation’s largest camp for unaccompanied migrant children in the event of a hurricanecane. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Several weeks into hurricane season, a South Florida congresswoman is pressing the Trump administration to provide its emergency evacuation plan for migrant children detained in vulnerable coastal areas.

At the Homestead Facility, the nation’s largest camp for unaccompanied migrant children, children are sheltered in tents, metal trailers and a former U.S. Job Corps building. It is located south of the city of Miami, and is situated in the second-most vulnerable hurricane zone in South Florida, the Miami Herald reported.

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When Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell asked federal officials to outline their emergency evacuation plan for the camp, the congresswoman received a brief, boilerplate response.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the sheltering of migrant children who arrive at the border without their parents, has not made its plan available to the congresswoman or to the public.

“The administration refuses to answer to the American people and we’re insulted by their lack of accountability,” the first-term Democrat told the paper. “It’s not just their constitutional duty to respond to our inquiries, they ought to have a plan in place by now.”

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The Homestead facility is located in what used to be a Job Corps building on the Homestead Air Reserve Base.

HHS refers to the camp as a “temporary influx facility.” In April, the facility added 900 beds. It currently has the capacity to detain up to 3,200 children between the ages of 13 and 17.

HHS told Mucarsel-Powell that it is working with Caliburn International — the private company operating Homestead — and other federal officials to “validate the plan.” Miami-Dade County officials have not been a part of those discussions, according to the Herald.

HHS did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The sheltering of unaccompanied children and asylum seekers who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border has been put in the spotlight this week following remarks by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who referred to federal facilities as “concentration camps.”

Ocasio-Cortez cited Fort Sill in Oklahoma, which imprisoned Japanese American adults during World War II. Fort Sill will soon begin to house unaccompanied minors, HHS announced last week.

Fort Sill was comprised of tents during the war. The camp was beset by severe weather, including turbulent winds and 100-degree temperatures, historians say.

The New York congresswoman’s remark was rebuked by Chairwoman of the House Republican Caucus Liz Cheney and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who said her description minimized the memory of the Holocaust.

Fort Sill “was called internment camp because that was the language of the time. But it was really part of the network of concentration camps that incarcerated citizens and non-citizens...they were prisoners,” said Wendy Ng, associate dean of undergraduate studies at San Jose State University. Ng is also the author of  "Japanese American Internment During World War II: A History and Reference Guide."

Ng said she agreed with Ocasio-Cortez that facilities like Fort Sill can be described as concentration camps.

“It is a concentration camp in the sense that the individuals who are sent there have no ability to leave on their own and as minors they don’t even have the protection of their guardians or parents,” Ng said. “There are obvious parallels to Japanese American internment and imprisonment that cannot be avoided.”

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