PHOENIX — The operator of 13 migrant shelters in Arizona could face extended oversight after state inspections of all the facilities, according to the director of the agency that licenses the shelters.
Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health Services have faced growing calls in recent weeks to crack down on the Southwest Key shelters after reports that migrant children there were sexually abused.
“Watching the news, it is horrifying,” Dr. Cara Christ, the state’s health services director, said in an interview Monday. “I can't imagine as a parent experiencing that or having my children experiencing that.”
Christ said the Southwest Key inspections were completed last week. Complaints to DHS, as well as allegations against Southwest Key employees, formed the basis for the inspections.
“With all of the allegations and all of the things that are being reported to us, we want to be sure we are able to continue responding and not have to rely on complaints to go in,” Christ said.
DHS licenses providers like Southwest Key, but inspections typically occur only once every two years, or when a complaint is received.
The reports compiled by DHS inspectors could lead to a formal “provider agreement”: a plan to fix any problems over a set time period, with the state monitoring progress.
Christ plans to tell federal officials what DHS inspectors found at Southwest Key. The Texas-based non-profit contracts with the federal government to operate the shelters.
President Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy at the border has created a booming business for shelter operators like Southwest Key, which house migrant children separated from their parents at the border.
Southwest Key takes in half a billion dollars a year from the feds to care for migrant children. Several hundreds have been housed in Arizona.
Christ said she would meet with Southwest Key officials once the inspectors report is done. The company could object to any plan of action devised by DHS.
A Southwest Key spokeswoman said the company welcomed the inspections and would work with the state on suggested improvements.