Arizona lawmakers requesting info on facilities housing separated children

Jun 25, 2018, 6:23 PM | Updated: 8:13 pm
Dignitaries take a tour of Southwest Key Programs Casa Padre, a U.S. immigration facility in Browns...

Dignitaries take a tour of Southwest Key Programs Casa Padre, a U.S. immigration facility in Brownsville, Texas, Monday, June 18, 2018, where children are detained. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

(Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

PHOENIX — Two Arizona state representatives have requested to tour the Southwest Key facilities in Arizona that house children who have been separated from their parents at the border and other unaccompanied minors.

State Reps. Kelli Butler and Bob Thorpe wrote a letter to Southwest Key CEO Dr. Juan Sanchez on Monday, requesting a tour of the facilities, to meet with on-site employees and “observe any operations affecting the health, safety and welfare of the children at your facilities.”

“As state legislators, we are entrusted with ensuring the safety of our communities and carefully monitoring entities licensed and operating within our state,” the lawmakers wrote.

They also linked to a Los Angeles Times article that outlined the “prison-like” conditions that migrant children were being detained in. Antar Davidson spoke out about his experience working at the Tucson shelter, Estrella del Norte, “in hopes of improving a system often shielded from public scrutiny.” He quit after working there for just a few months.

Southwest Key is a federally-contracted entity whose Arizona facilities are licensed by the Arizona Department of Health Services. The lawmakers said they believe nearly 450 of the 2,300 children who were separated from their parents after crossing the border are being detained in Arizona.

The lawmakers also claimed that federal and state officials had previously denied requests by House Democratic staff members to tour the facilities and said they were “very concerned that we are being denied access to information about an entity licensed and operating within our state.”

“We believe we have a right and a duty to provide oversight to ensure the safety of the children and our communities,” Butler wrote in an email.

“While our greatest concern is for the well-being and care of the children, we must also consider potential risks to our communities from documented lack of security at facilities. We have little information about the adequacy and cost of services being provided and whether any of these costs are being reimbursed by the state budget we oversee.”

As many as 2,300 children were separated from their migrant parents from the time the administration adopted the zero-tolerance policy until June 9, officials have said.

The separations came after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance” policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week, ordering an end to the separation of families. But the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Monday that the zero tolerance policy remains in effect, but cases cannot be prosecuted because parents cannot be separated from their children.

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Arizona lawmakers requesting info on facilities housing separated children