HOMESTEAD, Florida — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) became the third Democratic Party presidential candidate to visit the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children on Thursday morning, hours ahead of his appearance in the second evening of the first primary debate.
Sanders told demonstrators and reporters that children should not be detained, and that doing so was against American values.
“These are people in some cases who have walked carrying their little kids over 1,000 miles to this border,” he said, referring to migrants in general. “These are not criminals, they are not or enemies. They deserve respect and compassion.”
The Homestead facility houses thousands of teenagers, most of whom arrived at the border unaccompanied, according to the government.
Sanders dodged a question about whether he thought such facilities were “concentration camps” — a charge that some left-wing Democrats, including 2016 Sanders supporter Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), have made.
“I think most of us would agree you do not lock up thousands of children,” he said.
He added that the U.S. should not allow for-profit companies to operate such centers, or prisons.
He did not answer a question from Breitbart News about how he would stop illegal immigration. But he said that he would, as president, convene a meeting of Western Hemisphere nations to address what he called the “root cause” of migration, which he described as violent crime.
Sanders attempted to enter the facility and was turned away. He climbed a ladder that activists had set up across the road, where he peered over the fence from a distance.
Local activists were delighted that their demonstration had become a pilgrimage site for Democratic presidential candidates, and that it had been mentioned onstage at the first night of the presidential debate.
One told Breitbart News: “You can’t be the candidate that’s not coming.” Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.