Florida Democrat: HHS chief must resign over ‘disastrous’ handling of migrant kids

Following abrupt government budget cuts that stripped away access to lawyers, school and recess from unaccompanied migrant children nationwide — as well as scathing court filings detailing life inside the Homestead detention center, which falls within her district— U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is calling on Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to resign.

Mucarsel-Powell said her decision to call on the Cabinet member to step down Friday morning comes after the Trump administration “stopped processing asylum cases, separated children from their families and diverted sorely needed funds from various government agencies to build a medieval and ineffective wall.”

“Our immigration crisis has only worsened,” she said in a statement. “In no place is that more apparent than at the Homestead child detention facility.”

Last week, the Miami Herald reported that the federal government didn’t have hurricane evacuation and relocation plans despite the facility housing thousands of migrant children being located in the second most vulnerable hurricane zone in coastal South Florida. The area was devastated by Category 5 Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. C.M. Guerrero

Also making headlines were court filings in California that detailed first-person accounts of children detained in Homestead. They were quoted depicting a life of depression and loneliness, with some of them cutting themselves in frustration.

The Miami Herald also revealed that Caliburn International, the company operating the shelter, had secured a $341 million government no-bid contract while John Kelly, former head of the Department of Homeland Security and ex-chief of staff to President Donald Trump, sat on the company’s board of advisers. Two weeks later, Mucarsel-Powell, along with South Florida Democratic Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, demanded an inspector general probe into the deal. They have still not received a response, they said.

Around the same time, the three Florida Democrats were denied entry into the Homestead camp.

“By enforcing these disastrous policies, the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] under the leadership of Secretary Alex M. Azar has proved it cannot be a trusted caretaker for children and minors in its custody,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “For these reasons, Secretary Azar must resign.”

Monique O. Madan covers immigration and enterprise; she previously covered breaking news and local government. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and The Dallas Morning News. She is currently a Reveal Fellow at the Center for Investigative Reporting. She graduated from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston. A note to tipsters: If you want to send Monique confidential information, her email and mailbox are open. The address is 3511 NW 91st Ave, Doral, FL 33172. You can also direct message her on social media and she’ll provide encrypted Signal details.