By Geraldo Rivera, Unaccompanied Immigrant Children’s Services
At Southwest Key Programs, we are proud of our work and eager to discuss our experience providing essential care and services to unaccompanied minors who have fled their home countries to seek a better life in the United States. There is no substitute for seeing our work first hand and shelter tours provide important opportunities for us to share what we do with elected officials, regulators, community leaders and other appropriate stakeholders.
As a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulated facility, all tour requests must be reviewed and approved by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. This protects the safety and privacy of the unaccompanied minors in our care and ensures we can maintain a structured, homelike environment. We are not legally allowed to accommodate impromptu public tours and must always abide by visitor regulations established by ORR.
When we host tours, participants walk through our shelters and are able to see the variety of support and services we provide each child. This includes medical care, counseling services, classroom education, outdoor recreation, vocational training and even special celebrations during holidays. Over the past year, some groups have approached our shelters so they can understand how the children in our care are treated. While we welcome the opportunity to be transparent about our work, the protection of those in our care is our highest priority. So just as schools, daycare centers and other childcare facilities do not allow individuals to enter their buildings without proper vetting, nor do we.
In coordination with ORR, we have hosted more than 60 tours over the past 18 months. This does not include inspections or reviews by local and state officials. Our shelters receive frequent visits from the local fire marshals and code and compliance inspectors. These visits occur regularly to ensure we are abiding by strict compliance, health and safety standards.
ORR maintains Federal Field Specialists across the United States who can visit our shelters at any time and conduct walk-throughs. They have access to all client files and rigorous reporting on any incidents that occur in the shelter. These regulators conduct a weekly review of these reports.
We welcome both regulatory visits and ORR approved tours to our shelters. Our priority is the safety, care, and efficient unification of the youth we assist. We appreciate regulatory agencies as our partners in this mission. We are committed to transparency and openness, while staying focused on our goal to provide youth safe, supportive environments, as well as skills to prepare them for success when they are placed with families or suitable sponsors in the United States.