Says children at Homestead migrant facility "get 30 minutes over a month to talk to family members. If they were in a prison — a federal prison — they would get 300 minutes."

Donna Shalala on Sunday, July 21st, 2019 in an interview on CBSMiami with Jim DeFede

Yes, children at Homestead facility get far less time to call family than federal prisoners

Children housed at a migrant facility in Homestead, Fla., are crammed in with harsh conditions and rules, and in some respects, are treated worse than prisoners, says a South Florida congresswoman.

U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., criticized conditions at the Homestead facility in a July 21 interview with CBS Miami’s Jim DeFede.

"They get 30 minutes over a month to talk to family members," said Shalala, who represents a Miami district near Homestead. "If they were in a prison — a federal prison — they would get 300 minutes." 

Shalala is among South Florida congressional Democrats calling to close the Homestead facility and send the children elsewhere.

In reporting our fact-check, we learned that Shalala understated how often children can talk to their families, though she had a point that it is far less than the phone time for federal inmates.  

Telephone rules at Homestead vs. federal prisons

The Homestead temporary shelter for unaccompanied children opened in June 2016, during a migrant surge at the southern U.S. border. It was used through April 2017. Then, it reopened in 2018, and the first new wave of unaccompanied children arrived that March.

It is operated by Caliburn International, a private, for-profit company and a contractor of the government.

As of July 22, there were approximately 990 children at the shelter. As of mid July, the average length of stay was 36 days.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent us the written policy related to telephone time, which was written during the Obama administration in January 2015. 

The policy states that children must be provided the opportunity to make a minimum of two telephone calls per week — at 10 minutes each — to family members and/or sponsors living in the United States and abroad. The children call for free.

That adds up to 80 minutes of phone time per month, and not 30 as Shalala said.

A spokesman for Shalala said while she misspoke on CBS, Shalala has correctly cited the call limits on the House floor in June and in a press release.

Children have told immigration advocates, however, that they don’t get that much time in practice. Some said the calls are limited to between five and seven minutes. Advocates have filed a federal lawsuit against the federal government regarding conditions at Homestead.

Federal prisoners, who spend years behind bars, get far more telephone time with relatives.

A federal Bureau of Prisons policy states that inmates get 300 minutes per month for telephone calls, with an extra 100 minutes per month in November and December. The maximum amount of time for each phone call is 15 minutes. (The 300 minutes does not include calls to lawyers.)

Unlike the calls made by children, prisoners either pay for their phone calls or make collect calls. 

Christopher Zoukis, a former prison inmate who is now a consultant to attorneys and prisoners, told us for long-distance calls in the United States, that would add up to about $63 each month for prisoners. 

Our ruling

Shalala said children at the Homestead migrant facility "get 30 minutes over a month to talk to family members. If they were in a prison — a federal prison — they would get 300 minutes."

Shalala misspoke about the number of minutes the children get to speak. It is 10 minutes twice a week, which adds up to 80 minutes a month. The number of minutes stems from a policy written in 2015 during the Obama administration. 

The other part of her claim is on point: The children receive less telephone time than federal prisoners, who get 300 minutes a month. Unlike the children, federal prisoners either pay for their calls or call collect.

We rate this statement Half True.