The Investigators

Jun 10, 2014 12:46 AM by Lupita Murillo and Michel Marizco

N4T Investigators: U.S. opening immigrant child shelter near downtown Tucson

TUCSON - The U.S. government has been overwhelmed with hundreds of immigrant children caught at the border. But the question of what will happen with those children remains. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has quietly been making plans to shelter some of those children here in Tucson.

The agency awarded a contract to Southwest Key, a non-profit organization that shelters children captured crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally across the nation.

Similar contracts awarded by HHS show that children can be sheltered for as long as 35 days. KVOA is not identifying the location of this shelter in Tucson because advocates compare it to a domestic violence shelter and didn't want to put its future occupants at risk.

Kenneth Wolfe is spokesman for HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement. He refused to answer questions about the specifics of the shelter in Tucson and how much it would cost.

However, Lane Mandle, spokeswoman for the Tucson city manager's office, said the city will meet with Southwest Key officials Tuesday morning to determine what sort of facility the non-profit will be opening in Tucson. The non-profit organization held a job fair over two days in Tucson last week. Officials there said they were prevented from speaking to the news media about their project citing a nondisclosure agreement in the HHS contract.

Andrew Wilder, spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer questioned the validity of Southwest Key's claim that the shelter is not a detention facility. He said Southwest Key filled out an application with the state Department of Health Services May 21 but never completed its application. The governor's office has been a staunch critic of the Obama Administration's policies with non-Mexican immigrants captured at the border ever since it was revealed that the agency was dropping detainees off at Greyhound bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix with orders to appear at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices throughout the country.

The Homeland Security Department has driven busloads of immigrant children down to the Nogales Border Patrol station in recent days. The number of unaccompanied children detained has overwhelmed the agency and some law enforcement sources are concerned with health concerns.

Last week, a 17-year-old girl went into labor in the processing station. Over the weekend, local paramedics responded to two calls for service inside the station.

"It's been a trying time because obviously right now we have to move certain elements and certain agents guarding the border now having to move over to the center," said Border Patrol Local 2544 union president Art del Cueto.

Border Patrol agents have been pulled off patrolling the border and ordered to help in processing and guarding the children.

"We were caught off-guard, put it that way. Especially when you see that the budget took hits. Border Patrol agents were hit with the hours that they worked and then all of a sudden this gets swarmed in and now all of a sudden that's out the window because you need to take care of these individuals," del Cueto said.

» There are multiple updates to this story. Please click here to get the latest information.

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