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Tucson, Pima County leaders calling for transparency after touring Southwest Key

8 children separated at border remain at facility
Posted at 2:32 PM, Sep 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-08 20:18:19-04

Several Tucson and Pima County leaders recently got an inside look at Southwest Key in what they say is an effort to increase transparency at the facility.

Ward 3 Council Member Paul Durham believes it was his responsibility to see what conditions are like at Southwest Key since the facility on the northwest side is in his ward.

He says he asked tough questions about recently reported sexual abuse allegations. 

Durham toured Southwest Key on August 31 along with Council Members Richard Fimbres, Regina Romero, Paul Cunningham and Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson.

RELATED: Questions linger on what will happen with the already separated children

Durham says he learned a lot during the visit. The facility was near capacity with 295 children and teens, 240 of whom are boys. 

He tells KGUN he had positive interactions with the children, who shared that they talk to their family members twice a week.

"I didn't expect to have an opportunity to speak to the residents, but we were given that opportunity," Durham said.

RELATED: TUSD wants to educate immigrant kids at Southwest Key facility

According to a ProPublica report, Tucson Police investigated multiple child molestation incidents at Southwest Key dating back to 2014. Durham says this based on his tour:

"The people who work there have a genuine concern for the residents," Durham said. "And I think that conditions were better than what I had read elsewhere."

RELATED: What happens inside Tucson immigrant children's shelter?

This week, a grassroots group known as Uncage and Reunite Families called on Governor Ducey to launch another investigation into shelters housing immigrant children like Southwest Key.

During last week's visit, Durham says he saw a bulletin board with notices about reporting sexual harassment if it occurs, in both English and Spanish.

"I believe they're trying to do the best job that they can to prevent such incidents, but such incidents sometimes occur despite our best efforts," Durham said.

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

Durham is now working to establish regular communication with Southwest Key staff through follow up meetings every quarter so conditions can be continuously monitored. 

He says Southwest Key staff told him 81 children who were separated from their families at the border were initially staying at Southwest Key and now eight remain.