The Health and Safety of Migrant Children in Arizona

By: Ashley Fitzgibbons

Migrant children are still being held in detention facilities in Arizona weeks after a federal judge ordered reunification of families.[1]Children are being held in Arizona detention facilities as part of President Trump’s immigration policy, which involved the separation of children from their families at the border.[2]Reports have stated many of these children’s parents have already been deported; therefore, the likelihood the children will be reunified with their parents is argued slim.[3]Many have questioned the livelihood of children in these facilities. In Arizona, fears have been validated after two shelter workers were arrested for and one convicted of sexual abuse.[4]

One worker, Levian D. Pacheco was convicted of sexual abuse this September.[5]Pacheco was convicted of abusing seven teenage boys under his care at a Southwest Key facility called Hacienda Del Sol in Youngtown, Arizona.[6]Pacheco was H.I.V. positive, and he was accused of performing oral sex on two boys in the bedroom and bathroom.[7]Southwest Key, the owner of the detention facility, mentioned its grief for the situation and concern for protecting migrant children by upholding safe procedures and policies.[8]After the conviction was announced, the Department of the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General affirmed its commitment to protecting the health and safety of children in these facilities.[9]However, this government-contracted shelter did not collect fingerprints of Pacheco for a background check prior to employing him.[10]The legitimacy of the shelters and overseeing regulation of them has been a contentious issue.[11]Many of the companies who own these shelters have been found to have ties to President Trump and his team.[12]So, the administration’s ability to strictly regulate these companies has been questioned.

After these incidents, Federal officials suspended the Hacienda Del Sol Southwest Key migrant detention facility in Youngtown, Arizona.[13]However, the specific cause for the shutdown was not stated in the report.[14]Additionally, children in the closed facility were moved to other Southwest Key facilities in Arizona.[15]

Southwest Key operates thirteen facilities in Arizona.[16]The Arizona Department of Health Services (“ADHS”) licensed the Southwest Key facilities in the State.[17]However, after reports of abuse, ADHS made a deal with Southwest Key requiring increased state oversight, including background checks and basic training for workers.[18]After Southwest Key missed the deadline to prove satisfaction of increased oversight demands, ADHS considered revoking all other Southwest Key licenses in the state.[19]Despite a Southwest Key spokesperson stating the company’s apologies to missing the deadline set by the State,[20]Governor Doug Ducey affirmed his commitment to holding facilities out of compliance with the law accountable.[21]

In a meeting between Southwest Key and ADHS, the two parties reached an agreement requiring Southwest Key to close two programs[22]and pay ADHS $73,000 in return for ADHS ending an effort to revoke Southwest Key licenses.[23]The agreement additionally requires Southwest Key to get ADHS approval before housing more children, to hire a third-party healthcare consultant to address health and safety concerns in the facility, and to allow ADHS to inspect facilities without notice.[24]

Completely shuttering Southwest Key facilities in Arizona could create a humanitarian crisis.[25]Southwest Key is the largest operator of immigrant children shelters in the country and currently houses 1,600 children in Arizona.[26]However, the legitimacy of these facilities and their ability to ensure the health and safety of children has already been jeopardized by allegations and convictions of abuse and the lack of effective oversight within Southwest Key facilities. Additionally, Southwest Key has already failed to satisfy previous ADHS regulation.[27]Whether ADHS and the State of Arizona made the right decision is difficult to determine. Either way, the health and safety of migrant children has been endangered, and the lack of successful state or federal oversight has allowed migrant children to suffer the consequences.

[1]Daniel Gonzaléz, More than 60 separated children remain in Arizona weeks after deadline to reunite families, az central (Sept. 13, 2018, 7:22AM), https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/immigration/2018/09/13/more-than-60-separated-migrant-children-remain-arizona/1283429002/.

[2]Id.

[3]Id.

[4]Scott Neuman, Allegations of Sexual Abuse Surface at Arizona Shelters for Migrant Children, npr (August 3, 2018), https://www.npr.org/2018/08/03/635203037/allegations-of-sexual-abuse-surface-at-arizona-shelters-for-migrant-children.

[5]Christine Hauser, Worker at Arizona Center for Migrant Children Is Convicted of Sexual Abuse, N.Y. Times (Sept. 11, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/us/arizona-migrant-center-sexual-abuse.html.

[6]Id.

[7]Id.

[8]Id.

[9]Id.

[10]Id.

[11]SeeBen Protess, Manny Fernandez, & Kitty Bennett, Some Contractors Housing Migrant Children Are Familiar to Trump’s Inner Circle, N.Y. times(July 4, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/04/us/migrant-families-contractors-campaign-contributions.html?action=click&module=inline&pgtype=Article&region=Footer(finding most owners of detention facilities are for-profit-prison companies and non-profits who have politically supported Trump and/or his team).

[12]Id.

[13]Agnel Philip, Arizona Southwest Key migrant child shelter suspends operations after incident, az central(Oct. 5, 2018 11:26AM) https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/immigration/2018/10/05/feds-close-phoenix-area-southwest-key-hacienda-del-sol-migrant-child-shelter-youngtown/1534293002/.  

[14]Id.

[15]Id.

[16]Id.

[17]Id.

[18]Matthew Casey, Arizona May Take Licenses From Southwest Key Programs, kjzz (Sept. 20, 2018 3:10PM), https://fronterasdesk.org/content/701690/arizona-may-take-licenses-southwest-key-programs.

[19]Id.

[20]Id.

[21]Topher Sanders & Michael Grabell, “Humanitarian Crisis” Looms as Arizona Threatens to Revoke Immigrant Children Shelter Licenses, ProPublica(Sept. 21, 2018 6:40PM), https://www.propublica.org/article/southwest-key-arizona-threatens-to-revoke-immigrant-children-shelter-licenses.

[22]This includes the Youngtown facility the Federal Government forced to close.

[23]Agnel Philip, Southwest Key to close 2 Phoenix-area migrant-child shelters, pay fine to state, AZ CENTRAL(Oct. 24, 2018 2:10PM), https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/immigration/2018/10/24/southwest-key-close-2-phoenix-area-child-immigrant-shelters-pay-fine-arizona-settlement/1754460002/.

[24]Id.

[25]Sanders & Grabell, supra note 21.

[26]Id.

[27]SeeMatthew Casey, Arizona May Take Licenses From Southwest Key Programs, kjzz (Sept. 20, 2018 3:10PM), https://fronterasdesk.org/content/701690/arizona-may-take-licenses-southwest-key-programs.

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