TUCSON, Ariz. - A former motel on Tucson’s Oracle Road has become a focal point on the issue of children separated from their parents while crossing the border illegally. It is now a shelter for those children. Friday, Congressman Raul Grijalva came in for a look.
A Federal contractor called Southwest Key runs the Tucson shelter and many others in the U.S. Grijalva says he had to get the Federal Department of Health and Human Services to intervene so Southwest Key would let him in.
Even as a Member of Congress he was restricted: no photos, no talking to children.
We were able to get these views of the complex they show how the courtyard of the old motel has become a recreation area and how when the children change locations the staff keeps them in orderly lines.
Congressman Grijalva toured the shelter for a little more than an hour, then shared his impressions.
"It's still gut-wrenching because there's still babies there, young kids but it's gut wrenching in the sense that the frustration that many of us feel that we are not doing what we need to do to unify them to their parents and certainly this chaotic zero policy, zero tolerance agenda that is being played out on our borders is just adding to the load."
The Congressman says shelter staff told him it's slow, challenging work to gather the information they need to get children back with their parents---even tougher if the parent's already been deported.
The Southwest Key shelter has operated for four years since the Obama Administration opened shelters to house children who had no parents with them when they entered the U-S undocumented.
Grijalva says he was a critic of the system then and that the Obama administration eventually installed legal safeguards for the children.
“We went to Texas, we went to those centers, complained vociferously about using private contractors and what was happening with those kids and what was happening with their moms at the time because at the time they were holding moms and their kids together.”
He says now the Southwest Key shelter in Tucson has 297 children; of those 79 were separated from parents. The others crossed the border without parents. Most are from Central America, not Mexico.
"This process of unifying these kids with their moms is not gonna go well. It's not going well and I really believe that when we go back Congress has better interject themselves into making sure there is some oversight and there is some urgency in doing this. I don't trust the administration over their numbers. I don't trust the process they're going through. Agencies like this one are caught in the middle but at the same time the people most affected are the moms and their kids that are in here."
And he says members of Congress should hold off on efforts to reduce legal safeguards for the children in shelters like this one.