MIAMI — A year after we were first to reveal Gov. Ron Desantis' push to shut down shelters in Florida that care for unaccompanied migrant children, we've discovered one of these shelters is fighting back.
In a complaint filed in September with Florida's Division of Administrative Hearings, Miami faith-based shelter His House accused Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF) of overreaching its power to "enact and enforce an invalid rule that unlawfully assumed emergency powers" when there was no real emergency, according to the complaint.
It all stems from a newly enacted DCF rule which prohibits the agency from renewing child care licenses for federally funded shelters that care for unaccompanied migrant kids unless the federal government agrees to share more detail about who it's sending into the state.
His House in Miami is one of 17 Florida-based shelters contracted by the federal government to temporarily care for migrant kids who arrive in the U.S. without a legal guardian before they're reunited with family.
It's also the state's largest shelter of its kind and has helped more than 20,000 migrant children since it opened in 1996, according to the complaint.
But after 26 years of operating in Florida, DCF recently denied the shelter its license renewal because of the new DCF rule. The rule was born out of the governor's crackdown on illegal immigration and what DeSantis dubbed as "Biden's Border Crisis."
In the complaint, the shelter claimed its license denial is the result of "political propaganda" by a governor who is "aimed at bolstering his political bonafides so he can run for president in 2024."
Read the full complaint below:
"I think this complaint illustrates just how misdirected and politically motivated decisions by the Governor have been when it comes to immigration," said Florida state Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat representing Orlando.
Eskamani is a long-time immigrant advocate who is strongly opposed to what she calls the governor's anti-immigrant agenda.
"Immigrants and immigrant children are being used as political pawns. And meanwhile, you have faith-based organizations like His House, who are literally doing God's work and supporting unaccompanied children," she said.
In response to the complaint, DCF admitted His House was denied a new license because the Feds hadn't entered into a cooperative resettlement agreement with the state.
In a series of back-and-forth letters between the Biden and DeSantis administrations earlier this year, the General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, which runs the nation's Office of Refugee Resettlement, stated that Florida shelters that provide care for unaccompanied children as part of the federal program don’t need a state license to continue receiving federal funding.
But over the past year, several shelters and providers have told investigative reporter Katie LaGrone that they feel stuck in the middle of carrying out their mission to help those in need and abiding by the rules of who’s in charge.
A day before the case was set for a public hearing last month, the case was put on hold because DCF and His House reported that they were in the process of settling the dispute.
Neither DCF nor representatives for His House have responded to our requests for comment. Both parties have until the end of the year to finalize a settlement, or the case will continue.