Shuttered shelter for migrant kids reopens in Phoenix

Migrant Centers

This June 20, 2014, file photo, shows a Southwest Key program sign in Brownsville, Texas. A provider of shelters for immigrant children is looking to reopen two facilities that the state of Arizona forced it to shutter last year because of issues with employee background checks and allegations of abuse. Southwest Key has filed applications to reopen a facility in downtown Phoenix and one in an outer suburb where employees were investigated for child abuse but never charged. The nonprofit filed the applications in June and July. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

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PHOENIX (AP) — A national provider of shelters for immigrant children has reopened one of two Arizona facilities it was forced to shutter last year because of issues with employee background checks.

The Arizona Department of Health Services said Wednesday it approved an application by Southwest Key to reopen a Phoenix facility that can house up to 420 children. The shelters are for kids who traveled to the U.S. alone or were separated from a relative.

The shelter near downtown Phoenix has reopened after getting approval on Sunday, Southwest Key spokesman Neil Nowlin said.

“There is a continuing need for beds in state licensed facilities, so we remain committed to providing compassionate care, education, recreation, vocational training and access to pro bono legal counsel to the youth in our shelters while our staff works to safely reunite the minors with a sponsor,” Nowlin said in a written statement.

An investigation launched last year by the state’s health department after several reports of abuse found Southwest Key didn’t have fingerprint records for some employees. It temporarily stopped taking in more children, closed two facilities and had to meet other criteria to stay open.

Southwest Key has said it has resolved the issues and it is committed to caring for immigrant youths.

An application to reopen the second shuttered facility where authorities investigated physical abuse but decided not to pursue charges is pending. That facility in Youngtown, Arizona, just outside Phoenix, was closed last year amid reports that staff shoved and dragged unruly children. Videos released to reporters show staffers dragging children on the ground and shoving a boy against a door.

Authorities investigated but decided not to pursue charges, saying there was “no reasonable likelihood of proving” the workers committed a crime.

There have been numerous allegations of sexual abuse at different Southwest Key facilities in Arizona, including one made by the government of El Salvador, which said it received reports of three children, 12 to 17, who were sexually abused at unnamed shelters in the state.

A year ago, police arrested a 33-year-old man on suspicion of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl at the same Southwest Key shelter where just weeks earlier first lady Melania Trump had taken a tour.

The Border Patrol apprehended more than 69,000 people between October and the end of July, a significant spike over the last year.

The government contracts with Southwest Key and other private companies to provide shelter to children while they are reunited with a relative or while their immigration cases play out.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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