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Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell Visits South Miami-Dade Facility For Unaccompanied Migrant Children

SOUTH MIAMI-DADE (CBSMiami) - The Department of Health and Human Services announced Saturday, that it is keeping a temporary emergency migrant shelter in Oklahoma ready to open at a moments notice and has no plans to send children there, but the department still has no update on the future status of the South Miami-Dade facility for unaccompanied migrant children.

As the announcement was sent out nationwide, Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell returned to the South Miami-Dade facility as an oversight visit and member of the judiciary committee.

Saturday was her seventh visit.

"Every time, I leave as disturbed as my first visit," Mucarsel-Powell said.

The congresswoman said there were just more than 600 children at the facility and many are 17-years-old.

"I met a young woman today who pleaded with me because she knows what's going to happen. She has been told she will be sent to ICE on her 18th birthday," Mucarsel-Powell said.

The numbers Saturday show a large decrease from numbers released Monday. HHS said there were close to a 1,000 children at the facility.

"It's surprising to me since I've been asking for these kids to be reunified with their families since February. Apparently, in two weeks they found the will to do this," said Mucarsel-Powell.

HHS said, on average, children are at the facility for less than two months. Department leaders say new policy shortened the stay, the number of people crossing the border is down and additional unaccompanied children are going to permanent facilities instead of temporary ones like the South Miami-Dade facility.

"I still have not received a clear outline where these kids have gone. I want to make sure they are with their appropriate family members and sponsors," Mucarsel-Powell said.

Caliburn, the company running day-to-day operations said sponsors are being vetted for the safety of children.

As for one of the children inside, the congresswoman said she met one who didn't come alone and her father is in New York.

"She has been separated from her grandmother at the border, she hasn't heard from her grandmother since," Mucarsel-Powell said.

HHS describes an unaccompanied minor as one who doesn't have a legal guardian or parent in the United States or the parent/guardian can't care for the child or have physical custody.

In a statement on the status of the facility in Oklahoma, a spokesperson said,

"Over the last several weeks HHS has experienced a decrease in Department of Homeland Security referrals of unaccompanied alien children (UAC). Additionally, HHS has been placing UAC with sponsors at a historically high rate. As such, the UAC Program does not have an immediate need to place children in influx facilities.  For this reason HHS operations at Fort Sill will be placed in warm status, retaining site access to ensure continuity of operations in the event of an increase in UAC referrals or an emergency situation.  Please note, no UAC have been placed at Fort Sill since its current activation. DoD has been an exemplary partner in this humanitarian response to ensure temporary shelter is available in a time of potential need. DoD facilities are activated as a last resort to shelter UAC. We appreciate and look forward to DoD's continued partnership as we develop efficient, cost-effective strategies to address variations in border crossings by UAC. As HHS continuously states, migration patterns are unpredictable and we are likely to see an uptick in the number of referrals made to HHS this fall, based on historical trends. Therefore it is prudent to continue coordination and site preparation with DoD should full activation be required in the future. We will continue to keep Congress, local officials, and stakeholders informed of future actions pertaining to the Fort Sill site."


The South Miami-Dade shelter, which is the only for-profit child detention center in the country, houses children ages 13 to 17 years old.

It is the largest child detention center in the United States for unaccompanied minors.

The facility is run by Caliburn International, a Virginia based company awarded a government contract to manage the center.

President Donald Trump's former Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, is on the company's board.

Caliburn International operates the facility under a no-bid contract that is worth more than $350 million.

They are waiting to be reunited with their families or paired with sponsors once they are screened by the U.S. government.

Many of the children are fleeing gang and domestic violence and will end up seeking asylum.

Children sleep up to 12 per room in steel-framed bunk beds, and warehouse-sized, air-conditioned white tents where minors attend classes and watch movies.

The facility has a command center. Inside are cameras, computers, and staff members who watch over the kids. They keep track of how many kids are in the shelter and how many are moved.

The children have school six hours a day and there are recreational activities.

At night, lights go out in the rooms at 10 p.m. but are left on in the hallways. The children are awakened each day at 6:30 a.m. for a full day's program of activities and classes.

During the day, the kids are provided breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks.

The children meet with their attorneys once a week. They also have access to clinicians and social workers.

On their arrival, they are given a five day supply of clothes, laundry is done every other day.

The facility, contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services, is surrounded by chain-link fence, but there is no barbed wire. There are guards, but they are not armed. Doors have been removed from the dormitory bedrooms.

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