They’ve been called everything from baby jails to summer camps, but an in- depth look at shelters for immigrant minors reveals a well-intentioned system that had to expand rapidly and that struggles with accountability and consistent monitoring.
The shelters — 100 nationwide — had been working largely out of the public eye until this summer, as news spread that the U.S. government was splitting families at the border and that some of the children were being housed there. Protesters started to show up and increased media scrutiny has since revealed instances of overmedication, sexual abuse and improper use of physical restraints.
In Tucson, the Arizona Daily Star reviewed nearly 100 incident reports to the Tucson Police Department from Southwest Key’s Estrella del Norte shelter, inspection reports from the Arizona Department of Health Services, and spoke with several current and former employees, as well as with long-time experts.
While advocates said the current situation is a vast improvement from prior decades, they added that efforts by the Trump administration to roll back protections for the minors can mean longer stays and increases the likelihood of something going wrong.
The changes, said Michelle Brané, director of the migrant rights and justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, shift the focus from the welfare of children to enforcement.
“All of this combined with larger facilities, more focus on the detention aspect compared to the case management and release aspect, is bound to have more problems,” she said, and to erode “a lot of progress we’ve made in the past 20 years.”