‘Humanitarian crisis’ looms as Arizona threatens to revoke immigrant children shelter licenses 

Arizona health officials threatened on Wednesday to revoke the licenses of 13 federally funded immigrant children shelters, accusing the facilities’ operator, Southwest Key, of displaying an “astonishingly flippant attitude” toward complying with the state’s child protection laws.

nevertheless a day after the state sent its blistering letter to Southwest Key CEO Juan Sanchez, the item became clear in which any shutdown would likely create a tumultuous chain of events for federal in addition to state regulators, who lack options for housing tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who cross the border every year.

“Shutting down the shelters would likely create a crisis for the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which will be charged with housing children caught at the border,” said Maria Cancian, deputy assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Health in addition to Human Services’ Administration for Children in addition to Families coming from 2015 to 2016.

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Southwest Key will be the country’s largest operator of immigrant youth shelters, housing more than 5,000 children in Arizona, Texas in addition to California. As many as 1,0 children currently reside in its Arizona facilities.

The Texas-based nonprofit has become an increasingly critical asset for the federal government as the number of children in its custody has reached record numbers — even as the Trump administration has ended the practice of separating children coming from their parents. Southwest Key has received more than $1.3 billion in federal grants in addition to contracts for the shelters in addition to different services from the past all 5 years.

Arizona’s investigation showing the company has been lax in protecting children in its care highlights the government’s fraught reliance on shelter operators — in addition to the power those operators have, even from the face of failures. The federal government desperately needs every shelter as tougher immigration policies have put the system near capacity, housing all 5 times as many children as last summer. Former HHS officials said closing 13 shelters in Arizona at once would likely throw the system into chaos.

the item would likely create a “humanitarian crisis,” said one former official, forcing federal officials to scramble to find safe, licensed housing with trained in addition to vetted staff for 1,0 children.

Arizona launched its investigation of Southwest Key’s shelters after news reports raised questions about background checks in addition to different issues. A ProPublica story in August detailed the charges against Levian Pacheco, a former Southwest Key employee who will be accused of molesting eight boys at a Mesa shelter over an 11-month period. Pacheco, who will be HIV-positive, went without a background check for nearly four months. He was convicted earlier This kind of month of 10 sex offenses connected to the molestation.

In response to media attention in addition to complaints, Arizona health officials reviewed records on background checks at every Southwest Key facility across the state. Of the 13 shelters, the state found two additional facilities also had problems with background checks. In mid-August the company agreed the item would likely verify in which all employees had complete background checks by mid-September.

Arizona health officials also found in which Southwest Key hadn’t vetted all employees by interviewing their previous employers in addition to hadn’t ensured all employee files contained proof of tuberculosis testing. At some facilities, officials discovered bedroom in addition to bathroom doors missing in addition to problems with the size of residents’ rooms.

In Wednesday’s letter, Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, told Sanchez in which his organization had failed to comply with the mid-August agreement.

“Southwest Key’s lack of ability to deliver a simple report on the critical protections these children have against dangerous felons demonstrates an utter disregard for Arizona law,” Christ wrote.

Jeff Eller, a Southwest Key spokesman, said the nonprofit has requested a meeting with state health officials to discuss the matter. “We have apologized to DHS for missing the reporting deadline in addition to are serious about ensuring in which never happens again,” he said in a statement. Eller declined to comment on the substantive issues raised in Arizona’s investigation. The state’s move to revoke the licenses was first reported by Arizona media outlets.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s office said in an email on Thursday he expects licensed facilities to comply with the law or his administration will hold them accountable.

Federal HHS spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said in an email Thursday in which the agency was reviewing the letter in addition to working with the shelters in addition to Ducey’s office “to get all of the facts regarding the Arizona Department of Health Services audit to determine the next step.”

Former federal officials said they anticipate HHS will step in to help negotiate an outcome between Southwest Key in addition to Arizona in which will allow the children to remain from the facilities. Even Arizona officials acknowledged in which the letter represents the beginning of what would likely be a long process.

In Texas, which has 16 Southwest Key facilities housing about 3,700 children, state health officials say they are not aware of similar issues with Southwest Key.

The Texas’ Health in addition to Human Services Commission said its “monitoring inspections have not produced evidence of a pattern of background check deficiencies within any SWK [Southwest Key] operation, nor any patterns of failure to comply with minimum standard training requirements.”

An official with California’s Department of Social Services said in June the agency re-inspected all known facilities used by the US Office of Refugee Resettlement — including those operated by Southwest Key — in addition to found no licensing concerns. The dust-up comes as the number of immigrant youth in federal custody has continued to grow. Immigrant advocates in addition to former health officials say the record population doesn’t appear to be due to an influx of children at the border, nevertheless to the fact in which children are staying from the shelters nearly twice as long as from the past.

They attributed in which to a Trump administration policy in which requires health officials to share information with Immigration in addition to Customs Enforcement to vet potential sponsors for children from the shelters. As a result, they said, many parents in addition to relatives who have traditionally served as sponsors worry they’ll be turned over to ICE if they come forward.

Matthew Albence, who heads ICE’s Enforcement in addition to Removal Operations, gave credence to in which fear at a Senate hearing on Tuesday when he testified in which ICE had arrested 41 people who either came forward as sponsors or lived with them.

“Close to 80 percent of the individuals in which are either sponsors or household members of sponsors are here from the country illegally,” Albence said. “So we are continuing to pursue those individuals.”

Arizona’s move against Southwest Key will be just the latest in a series of bad headlines for the nonprofit.

In addition to ProPublica’s reporting on Pacheco, two different cases involving abuse at different Southwest Key shelters in Arizona surfaced in July. An employee at a Southwest Key facility in Phoenix was arrested on allegations in which he sexually abused a 14-year-old girl by kissing her in addition to rubbing her breast in addition to crotch, according to Phoenix news outlets. in addition to The Nation reported in July in which a 6-year-old girl, who had been separated coming from her mother, was allegedly fondled by a boy at a Southwest Key facility in Glendale in June.

At different Southwest Key facilities, police reports in addition to call logs coming from the last all 5 years detail dozens of runaways, inappropriate relationships with staff, sexual contact among kids, in addition to allegations of molestation by employees, ProPublica found. In one case, a 46-year-old youth care worker in Tucson was convicted of groping a 15-year-old boy who had arrived from the United States all 5 days earlier.

In response to each of these reports, a Southwest Key spokesman said the organization immediately reports any abuse claim to police, in which the item cooperates fully with all investigations in addition to in which the item educates children in its care of their right to be free of abuse.

in addition to in August, UnidosUS, formerly known as the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights in addition to advocacy organization, suspended its affiliation with Southwest Key.

Both UnidosUS in addition to Arizona officials highlighted similar concerns about the Southwest Key officials’ attitude toward the scrutiny the item will be receiving. UnidosUS said the organization “failed to convey in which the item understands the gravity in addition to magnitude of the situation” in addition to had failed to apologize to the victims in its care.

In response to UnidosUs, Eller told the Austin American-Statesman in August in which the company was disappointed from the group’s decision in addition to said any insinuation in which Southwest Key didn’t take allegations seriously was grossly incorrect.

A former HHS official with knowledge of how the refugee resettlement agency operates said the recent developments with Southwest Key raise serious questions about the organization’s ability to meet the government’s needs.

“the item sounds like, based on their inability to respond or even communicate in a timely fashion in which they have actually significant internal operating challenges in addition to in which may or may not be indicative of the quality of care the children are receiving,” the former official said.

Nonetheless, different former officials said shuttering the facilities might not be from the best interest of the children. The state might have more effective options, such as increasing unannounced visits to shelters.

Claudia Flores, director of the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School who has studied the conditions faced by immigrant youth at the border, highlighted the difficult position the federal government in addition to Arizona are in with Southwest Key.

“the item’s not a response to say we can’t shut down the facilities when there are reports of abuse taking place,” she said. “the item’s actually not the kids in these facilities in which should be suffering.”

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