KGUN 9NewsBorder Watch


Shelter for unaccompanied minors is operating in Benson

Mayor is calling on Feds for resources
Benson shelter for unaccompanied minors
Posted at 4:31 PM, Apr 18, 2021

BENSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Just below Benson's welcome sign, you’ll find an old hotel turned shelter for unaccompanied minors who have crossed into the United States.

Benson Mayor Joe Konrad is now asking for the Federal government to step in because he said his city doesn’t have the resources to do what Federal agencies like Border Patrol and ICE are supposed to do.

“I feel that transparency would have gone a long way on that permit was taken out. It’s hard to operate when you have to be reactionary," said Mayor Joe Konrad, City of Benson.

When it began operating it became the talk of the small city of about 5,100.

“The permit as it was issued was for transient temporary housing, but no mention of illegal immigrants. So that's what we're faced with how it is we don't have the resources to police, you know, immigration, that's not what our police department does,” said Mayor Konrad.

It’s being run by Vision Quest Arizona. It's a youth services organization, according to its website.

Vision Quest's CEO Mark Contento said Vision Quest tried to be transparent and followed all the rules and guidelines required.

The shelter has the capacity to hold 50 children, according to Contento. He said now it's holding about 20.

"Our job is to place them with sponsors and we do so really quickly," said Contento.

He said Benson was the chosen location because it’s close to Tucson.

“Recruiting staff is always an issue. The larger the metropolitan areas, the better. But it was just a location that worked for us. The facility was was conducive to our needs and we've been working with a landlord who's been very cooperative very supportive and getting the facility up and running for us quickly,” said Contento.

Now that the shelter is up and running, Mayor Konrad says the bottom line is the Federal government needs to step in with resources.

“Our Federal government is doesn't seem to be doing anything to help solve the problem, the problem is still at the border, and then it keeps coming farther and farther as they choose to not address,” said Mayor Konrad.

Contento agrees that the Federal government should step in if Benson needs resources.

“I would fully support any federal support that can be given to benson because yes, I do agree that this is a national problem that should not be placed on any particular community," said Contento.

In Benson, the police force is made up of 15 and the fire department is mostly volunteer-based.

In the last couple of weeks, Mayor Konrad said city resources were used when there was a fire in the shelter’s kitchen and a child ran away.

“One of the youth escaped from the facility, and I use the word escape, but it's not technically a detention facility so we have that going on. So, our police department was contacted, [officers] responded [and] apprehended the youth. [Officers] brought him back to Vision Quest and were told that they can't accept them back, that now we have to turn [him] over to ICE,” said Mayor Konrad.

Vision Quest said the child was 14 and a situation like this is unusual.

"I can imagine he was quite frightened. I don't know but he did leave the facility. As a result, he will no longer be placed [in the shelter]. He's going back into the Federal system," explained Contento.

Contento leaves this message with Benson residents.

“My message to the people of Benson is [to] feel proud of what you're doing and what you're what you're part of, because this is, this is a need, and we're part of the solution.”

Mayor Konrad said he’s reached out to both Arizona senators and has a meeting with Senator Sinema this week. In the meantime, he says the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department, which receives federal funding for border enforcement, has offered to help with whatever the city needs.