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Police: 16-year-old immigrant ran away from Southwest Key

Posted at 9:22 AM, Jul 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-25 21:12:23-04

Tucson police say an undocumented 16-year-old boy ran away from a facility used to hold immigrant children.

Police say staff at Southwest Key, 1601 N. Oracle Road, made the report Sunday.  

There is not an active search for the missing teen because TPD does not consider him vulnerable or a criminal.

Southwest Key spokesperson Jeff Eller said staff do not have the power to stop a child from leaving.

“If a child leaves the property, we cannot force them to stay, but we talk to them and we work with law enforcement to ensure their continued safety," Eller said in an emailed statement.

When a child leaves, staff tells law enforcement and, "they do the follow up," Eller wrote. Staff provides law enforcement with information about the missing child, including a description and where they might be heading, but does not actively participate in a search, according to Eller.  

It is not known how long this teen had been at the facility or the circumstances of his arrival at the border. Eller said Southwest Key's contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement prevents it from discussing individual children.

The facility on Oracle Road cares for children aged 5 - 17 years old. It is a former motel, with dozens of rooms facing inward toward a large courtyard containing basketball hoops and soccer goals.

State Representative Kirsten Engel toured the facility July 13th. She says during a follow up meeting with Southwest Key administrators she and other lawmakers raised questions about situations surrounding runaway children.

“I have to say, we did not get very good information,” Engel said. “All we heard is that they would call 911, they would discourage the person, the juvenile, from running away, tell the person they can always come back and otherwise call police.”

Engel says she was not entirely surprised to learn a teenager had run away.

Engle and other state lawmakers want more state-level oversight of Southwest Key’s seven locations in Arizona.

“They're in our state so we're concerned they're in our state and well taken care of,” said State Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, who was on the July 13th tour.

Rep. Gonzales says she wants state inspectors to have more access to ensure the welfare of the children inside and wants inspectors to be allowed to show up unannounced.

Eller says all children receive mental health screening within 24 hours of arriving. Staff look for urgent mental health issues, "including suicidality, danger to others, and substance-related systems."

"Within 72 hours they are provided with an assessment for risk to identify any concern regarding the client's safety. Within 5 days clinicians gather and document a history, background, and current mental status," Eller wrote.

He said counseling continues for all children while they stay at the facility.

"After the intake portion, the minors receive an individual counseling session at least once a week (or when needed), group counseling sessions once a week, and family counseling sessions to create a continuum of care plan for a minor, as well as to discuss such plan with the minor and his family. If necessary, minors are provided with external specialized services (psychological/psychiatric evaluations and follow ups), provided by licensed medical professional who are outsourced to local health professionals."