A Miami-Dade County Democratic lawmaker is reacting strongly to the Trump administration’s announcement that its shelters housing migrant youths around the country will begin scaling back or ending education services, legal services and recreational opportunities, saying the policy violates the state constitution.
There are about 2,700 children between the ages of 13 to 17 being housed in a shelter next to Homestead Air Reserve Base, south of Miami, state Sen. Annette Taddeo said in a written statement.
Taddeo says she is contacting Gov. Ron DeSantis about the policy decision, pointing out that the Florida Constitution says that any child living in Florida must receive an education, regardless of their immigration status.
The federal Health and Human Services Department said on Wednesday that its Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for housing migrant minors, has “instructed grantees to begin scaling back or discontinuing awards for U.A.C. (unaccompanied minor) activities that are not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services and recreation.”
“When I visited the Homestead Detention center, I left with the feeling that these children were in a prison-like facility,” Taddeo said in a statement. “Now, the Trump administration is shutting off their lifeline to any semblance of normalcy – no physical exercise, no outdoor games, no teachers and no lessons – their lives bound by the stark walls that surround them. These are the tactics of brutal governments. They should not be ours.”
Taddeo’s comments come a day after three Democratic South Florida members of Congress – U.S. Reps. Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, called for the Homestead Temporary Shelter to be closed and for the children being held there to be moved to smaller facilities managed by non-profit organizations better equipped to care for them and transition to family or sponsors more quickly.
Last month, the three lawmakers requested that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General investigate various issues related to the facility’s conditions, oversight access and contracting concerns.
Child welfare advocates have said that the administration’s move is not legal, because it violates what is known as the Flores settlement, a 1997 federal policy that says that the government must provide certain services for unaccompanied minors who are held by immigration authorities, including “an educational assessment and plan.”
Taddeo says that state statute makes education compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 16, and provides that violators can be prosecuted, adding that if “the federal government will not pay for the education of these children, the state of Florida may well be obliged to step in to provide one.”
“Even children swept up in armed conflicts have rights such as education and recreation guaranteed under the Geneva Convention,” Taddeo says. “Only tyrants would ignore them.”