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3 House members demand investigation into migrant detention center no-bid deal

Monique O. Madan, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

"It is imperative that (Comprehensive Health) be held accountable to state and federal standards for child care and that the human rights and dignity of these unaccompanied children be protected," the letter says.

The camp just outside of Homestead opened during the Obama administration but closed when the flow of migrants through Mexico ebbed. Reopened in February 2018 under the new administration, it has been shrouded in secrecy. Because it sits on federal land, Florida's child welfare agency is barred from investigating any allegations of abuse.

In early April, Wasserman Schultz, Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell were denied same-day entry into the facility by HHS, despite a new law mandating congressional access.

The House members referenced Section 234 of bill 115-245 (the 2019 Department of Health and Human Services Appropriations Act), which was amended this year to say members of Congress can't be prevented from "entering, for the purpose of conducting oversight, any U.S. facility used for maintaining custody of or otherwise housing unaccompanied alien children."

HHS would not comment on the lawmakers' request but told the Herald "To ensure a facility visit does not interfere with the safety and well-being of our (children), we require a minimum two-week notification at the convenience and availability of the facility. This has been policy since 2015."

In Monday's letter, the House members mentioned a previous tour.

"The conditions we observed during our initial visits were unacceptable, even for a temporary detention facility. Despite these poor conditions, the department has recently offered the Homestead shelter's operator a new contract, which will see them earn almost half a billion in taxpayer-funded dollars by the end of the year."

Usually, government contracts are subject to policies, statutes and regulations that encourage competition to ensure proper spending of taxpayer dollars.

 

However, federal officials told the Herald that their decision to issue Comprehensive Health Services the new deal on a no-bid basis was due to an "unusual and compelling urgency."

The number of migrants entering the country, including unaccompanied minors, has spiked in recent months.

HHS said in a statement: "Currently, (Comprehensive Health) is identified to be the most knowledgeable and experienced in the Homestead service requirements needed and the only source (the Office of Refugee Resettlement) has identified that is capable of meeting the urgent need to increase bed capacity at Homestead in a timely manner."

HHS wouldn't provide the company's compliance reviews -- report cards that state whether a vendor is meeting performance goals -- because they contain "proprietary information."

(c)2019 Miami Herald

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