- Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke on Thursday visited a migrant child detention facility in Homestead, Florida.
- The facility is located not too far from Miami, where both were participating in the first 2020 Democratic presidential debate.
- The 2020 Democratic candidates spoke with activists from near and far who want the facility to be shut down.
- INSIDER was there and captured the emotional scenes.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA – It was a scorching day as 2020 Democrats Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke on Thursday visited a migrant child detention facility in Homestead, Florida.
Sanders and O’Rourke had headed to Homestead by way of Miami, as they both participated in the first 2020 Democratic debate. Other 2020 Democrats had also previously visited the facility while in town for the debate, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was there later in the day on Thursday.
In the stifling heat, activists from near and far struggled to stay cool as they spoke with Sanders and O’Rourke about their efforts to bear “witness” to what’s happening to the thousands of minors confined at the facility.
INSIDER was there on Thursday morning and captured the emotional scenes.
Sen. Bernie Sanders was at the Florida detention facility early in the day.
Jane Sanders, the senator’s wife, joined him for the visit.
As the senator toured the facility, activists gathered near its entrance.
Signs with quotes from minors who’d been confined in facilities could be seen in the parking lot. One, from a 16 year old, said, ‘I cried every day because I didn’t want to be there.’
Another sign, from a 17 year old, said, ‘I pray to God that I get to leave here.’
Roughly 2,300 migrant children are confined in the facility, which is on federal property but run by a for-profit corporation. The center is only meant to keep children for a few days, but many have been there for months, according to The New York Times.
The New York Times
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a co-chair of Sanders’ 2020 campaign, was also at the Homestead facility on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters, Cruz blamed Trump’s policies on asylum for the recent deaths of a migrant father and his daughter, which were captured in an image that has shocked the nation.
Cruz at one point could be seen embracing a 14-year-old immigration activist named Leah.
Joshua Rubin, of Brooklyn, New York, who’s led the protests at Homestead, told INSIDER, ‘My mission is to close this place … It’s for-profit, the conditions are bad, the people are incompetent. It’s for-profit, man. They’re keeping these kids in here longer because it pays — it pays to keep them in here longer.’
Before he was at Homestead, Rubin protested at and camped outside of Tornillo tent city in Texas, which he gained considerable media attention for. Rubin, citing lawyers who spent time in the facility and documented conditions the children are living in, told INSIDER that conditions at Homestead are worse.
“You can’t leave … you don’t know when you’re going to leave… you can’t talk to your parents except for maybe a couple of times a week … They take pens and pencils from the kids because at night girls have been cutting themselves. There are kids that cry themselves to sleep tonight. There are kids that get so depressed they get prescribed psychotropic drugs,” Rubin said.
A 705-page court document filed by lawyers who spent substantial time inside Homestead’s detention center for unaccompanied minors says the migrant children held there are subjected to ‘prison-like’ regimens, potentially sustaining permanent psychological damage due to isolation from loved ones.
Rubin is not the only person to come from afar to protest against the conditions at Homestead. Many of the activists at Homestead were from out-of-state.
“I came, lots of other people came … People come because they want to do what we want to do, which is witness what’s going on here and spread the word to the world,” Rubin said. “We’re convinced that if enough people see what goes on here … they look over the fence, and they see those kids being led around, one pace apart, single-file, no touching allowed – they will insist, as we insist, that this place be shut down and that places like this never open again.”
Ken Barnes, a lawyer from New Hampshire, told INSIDER that like Rubin he’s also there to ‘witness’ what’s happening and spread the word. He said that the activists often shout to the children in the facility in Spanish that they love them and they’re not alone.
Army veteran Mark Bouley, originally from New Hampshire but now a Miami resident, told INSIDER he came to Homestead because ‘this isn’t the country that I decided to go defend when I signed up.’
“We’re supposed to be the home of the free. We’re all immigrants here – all of our families came here at one point from somewhere else,” he continued. “It’s not right, it’s just not right. I’m ashamed I even worked for the government at this point.”
Rep. Beto O’Rourke showed up not long after Sanders left, and he spoke with local activists upon his arrival.
“I’m here because of the activist that are here to make sure this country knows what is being done in our name right now,” O’Rourke said. “In this democracy, where the people are the government, and the government is the people – you cannot blame this just on Donald Trump or just on one political party. Every single day that this persists, it’s on every single one of us.”
O’Rourke struggled to fight back his emotions as he shouted out in Spanish to the children in the facility to let them know he was there while holding up a heart-shaped sign.
Activists joined in with O’Rourke as they shouted out to the children in solidarity.
INSIDER asked O’Rourke if he had a message for Trump, whom he’s been quite critical of on immigration.
“All of us need to stand up and reclaim this country,” O’Rourke said. “Donald Trump has done this but it is up to us to change who’s in the White House going forward.”
Meanwhile, some of the minors detained at the facility could be seen in the distance wearing bright orange hats, staring at the ground as they marched from one section of the facility to another.
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