January 17, 2019

Southwest Key Takes Step to Have Freeze on Arizona Admissions Lifted

The migrant children's shelter operator has a months-long statewide freeze on placements of unaccompanied, undocumented children.

Southwest Key kids spot Children seen on the grounds of the Southwest Key facility in Tucson, Arizona, July 7, 2018. (PHOTO: AZPM)

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Southwest Key Programs has asked state health officials to start inspections of the shelter operator’s Arizona facilities. The move is a key step toward lifting a months-long, statewide freeze on placements of unaccompanied, undocumented immigrant children at Southwest Key shelters.

The halt on taking in more kids was part of a legal settlement with the state. Southwest Key has worked well with Arizona to add new checks required by the settlement, such as hiring an outside health care consultant, said State Rep. Kelli Butler.

“So I think they’re going to bring children back into facilities in a careful and measured way,” she said.

Butler said she still thinks additional oversight of Southwest Key is needed, and she plans to introduce a bill in the coming weeks.

In 2018, one former Southwest Key employee was convicted of sex crimes, and another was arrested on suspicion the day after First Lady Melania Trump visited the shelter where he worked.

Arizona forced Southwest Key to permanently shutter two of its shelters after Southwest Key failed to give timely proof that all employees passed background checks.

Decisions on whether to lift the freeze on admissions to Southwest Key shelters in Arizona will be made individually.

Fronteras Desk
This story is from the Fronteras Desk, a collaboration of Southwestern public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Fronteras Desk.
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