June 23 (UPI) — The Department of Health and Human Services granted Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and journalists access to a migrant child shelter Friday in Homestead, Fla., the second-largest of its kind in the country.
The temporary shelter, which operates when needed and reopened in February 2018, currently houses 792 boys and 387 girls between the ages of 13 and 17. Seventy of the children were separated from their parents after attempting to cross the border from Mexico into the United States, program director Leslie Wood told journalists.
HHS opened the shelter’s doors for a tour after Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said they were denied entry earlier this week. Wasserman Schultz said the government reopened the facility earlier this year without public notice and she learned about it Monday.
Nelson and Wasserman Schultz were scheduled to tour the facility Saturday.
Officials did not permit journalists to speak to the children or bring in cellphones, or audio or video equipment during the Friday tour.
A journalist for the Miami Herald observed children walking in single lines around the facility, some playing basketball or soccer.
ABC News said the boys and girls are kept separate — they eat at different times and are educated in separate areas of a school tent. They receive six hours of school each day and are allowed to watch television on the weekends.
Each child is allowed two 10-minute phone calls per week to a parent or family member, and the average stay for each teen is 25 days.
Rubio was among those given a tour of the facility Friday. He called for programs to help ease crime and poverty in Central American countries to end immigration to the United States.
“Won’t be easy to house families together, but we must do it. Because we can never again go back to a policy of either separating families or releasing everyone. Yes, separating families is cruel. But so is a release policy that incentivizes adults to unlawfully cross the border with kids,” he said.
The Homestead tour came one day after mayors from across the United States gathered at the largest migrant child shelter in the country — at the Tornillo port of entry in Texas. They called for the Trump administration to reunite families that had been separated under the president’s zero-tolerance policy.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday ending the administration’s practice of separating children from parents who illegally crossed the border. The increase in separations — 2,300 since April — came after the administration promised to prosecute 100 percent of all offenders.
Though the separation policy has ended, the order did not provide for the return of children forcibly removed from their parents during the crackdown.
The Navy, meanwhile, is considering constructing detention centers across the country capable of housing tens of thousands of immigrants, according to a draft memo obtained by Time. The facilities would be temporary and include locations near Mobile, Ala., San Francisco, Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz.