HOMESTEAD, Fla.—Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) was denied entry on Friday into a government facility housing unaccompanied immigrant minors and children who had been separated from their parents at the southern border.
“Our goal is not to make a scene. It’s to see with my own eyes what’s happening there. And if they’re confident in the work that they’re doing, they should welcome us in,” Curbelo said in an interview here, hours after being told he would not be permitted inside the facility. “It was highly disappointing and I think they’re claiming that they have a lot of work and getting a lot of requests. I don’t feel sorry for them. That’s what we pay them to do.”
Curbelo, who represents Florida’s southernmost congressional district, was slated to visit the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, one of three facilities in his district. According to Curbelo’s office, the congressman followed the proper protocols with the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the facilities, prior to his scheduled tour.
The formal request to tour the facility was made more than two weeks ago, his spokeswoman told The Daily Beast. A week and a half ago, the congressman and HHS decided on Friday as the date for his visit. Curbelo received the proper clearance and was in touch with HHS officials in Washington. As of Thursday, he was still confirmed to tour the facility.
But on Thursday night, Curbelo received a call from HHS staff in Washington, who told him that the department would not be able to send a staffer down to Homestead to give him a tour. But Curbelo’s spokeswoman noted that HHS has staffers based locally in south Florida, in addition to the employees at the facility itself.
“It’s unnecessary. We fund these facilities. We fund the salaries of everyone who works at these facilities,” he said. “And for them to make it so difficult for members of Congress to conduct oversight—no one’s here to disrupt their operation.”
Curbelo is the latest lawmaker to be turned away from the facility. Just last month, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) were barred from entering Homestead facility.
Around 1,000 children are being housed here. Nearly 100 of them were separated from their families at the southern border as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings. Attorney General Jeff Sessions implemented the policy earlier this year.
Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have attempted to visit similar detention centers in their districts. Many have been turned away, but others have been granted access. Last month, Curbelo joined Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) on a visit to a separate facility.
In a letter to the GOP chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees, Matthew Bassett, the HHS assistant secretary of legislation, said lawmakers’ visits were slowing down efforts to reunite children with their parents. But lawmakers have dismissed that argument, suggesting that the administration has something to hide when it prevents members of Congress from visiting and touring those facilities.
“That sounds completely bogus to me,” he said.
The administration has been rushing to comply with court orders to reunite those immigrant families. This week, officials said around 100 of the nearly 3,000 children that were separated from their parents are under the age of 5. A federal judge in San Diego ordered that the children under the age of 5 be reunited with their parents by Tuesday of this week. All other children must be brought back to their parents by July 26, the judge said.
Curbelo said he will be supporting legislation that would grant lawmakers access to facilities like the Homestead one.
“If your operation is so sensitive and delicate that an elected leader walking through your facility and asking a few questions disrupts your work, then you have a bigger problem,” he said.