FORT MYERS, Fla. — Dozens of people rallied for the Department of Homeland Security to reunite migrant children held in detention centers with their parents.
And supporters of all ages showed up to take a stand, like 7-year-old Adrianna Merricks.
“I’m here to represent all the kids that have gone missing in the U.S,” she said.
Organizers at today's rally said they’re focused on children in our state. Specifically, the Homestead Branch in South Florida.
Supporters said they want voters to reach out to lawmakers to shut down the center.
“The ultimate goal is to get enough people upset so there’s some huge pressure to stop this thing. It’s totally wrong,” said Jay Crean with the Democratic Progressive Club of Lee County.
Helen Fox with Fort Myers Quakers said no matter how they got here, undocumented children shouldn't be treated as prisoners.
“The teenagers, whether they came with their parents, with relatives, with friends or by themselves, should not be imprisoned. And they certainly shouldn’t be in a for-profit detention center,” she said.
Susan McGuire with Pine Island Roar said she's concerned about the long-term effect the facilities will have on children.
“Experts will agree that this kind of treatment of children constitutes a life-long trauma and child abuse,” she said.
And while they’re rallying here to reunite migrant children with their families in the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security is asking for Congress to grant them the authority to deport immigrant minors and families to their original countries.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said a detention center housing 1,600 migrant minors like Homestead costs taxpayers $750 per child per day.
In a letter to Congress Thursday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson outlined reasons why Congress should extend the department’s authority to deport undocumented teens to home countries other than just Mexico. She said there's been a surge of immigrants apprehended this year. She said numbers have increased from 50,000 each month as of the end of last year to 75,000 last month.
And she said facilities are running out of bed space.
Mcguire said the facilities for undocumented teens only have to go.
“If we don’t have an American value that says we oppose cruelty to children, what kind of values do we have?” McGuire asked.
Nielsen also said in the letter DHS will work to keep migrant families together in detention facilities.