New facility for unaccompanied, separated migrant children and teens opens in Phoenix

Neighborhood Ministries recently began servicing unaccompanied and separated migrant children under a new program called Nueva Esperanza. According to the federal government, the program has the capacity to take in 54 migrant boys and girls ages 3 to 14. Photo courtesy Neighborhood Ministries.

Neighborhood Ministries recently opened a new program in partnership with the federal government to care for migrant children who arrived at the border alone to seek protection or were separated from their parent or relative by border officials. 

The new program, called Nueva Esperanza, has capacity to take in 54 migrant boys and girls ages 3 to 14, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. That agency contracts with mostly private entities to care and service unaccompanied or separated migrant minors through the Office of Refugee Resettlement. 

Neighborhood Ministries is a non-profit based in Phoenix founded in 1982 that operates a food and clothing bank, and provides educational programs for families. This past fiscal year, the organization received $10 million in federal funds for the Nueva Esperanza program, according to HHS. 

It is the newest program in Phoenix, among a number of expanding services for the migrant youth population. Approximately 13,150 migrants less than 18 years old arrived to Arizona border ports of entry alone or were arrested by Border Patrol after crossing the border in fiscal year 2019, according to government figures. Those minors are admitted into the U.S., processed by border and immigration officials and later placed in HHS-funded sites until they are sent to relatives already living in the country.   

Tony Navarrete, community liaison for Neighborhood Ministries, said he expects minors to be at Nueva Esperanza’s program for no longer than 20 days. 

“Our responsibility and our role is to make sure that they have the safest place and a place where they are meeting with their clinicians, case managers, and be provided an extensive amount of resources so they can manage life and their journey,” Navarrete said. “Our mission is to focus on the whole child, we want to provide as many tools and skills for this person on this journey.”

Navarrete is also a Democratic state senator who represents District 30, which covers parts of west Phoenix and Glendale.  

While HHS said Neighborhood Ministries got the green light to receive migrant children on Sept. 15, the program received the first group of minors earlier this month.

Nueva Esperanza will operate under a transitional care model, meaning Neighborhood Ministries hires foster parents to temporarily care for the migrant minors, Navarrete said. 

“We understand that these young people are going through a whole lot of trauma on their way from their home country all the way to the United States. We want to make sure we provide the safest place possible where they can feel welcomed,” he said. “The foster care model allows it to be open, to be with the families and in the community.”

Instead of staying in a residential shelter space, the migrant youth live in the home of an adult certified as a foster parent by the Arizona Department of Child Safety, according to Jesus Magaña, clinical director for Nueva Esperanza. 

At a Neighborhood Ministries campus in Phoenix, the children will have access to an on-site school called Katy’s Kids, which is licensed by the Arizona Department of Health Services as a child care center, Magaña said. 

The new program is part of an expansion in Arizona of places serving migrant minors who arrived at the border alone or were separated from their parent or relative. 

In June, Child Crisis Arizona began housing migrant infants and toddlers at its two facilities in Mesa and Phoenix, according to Reveal News. The ADHS licenses Child Crisis Arizona as a child care center. 

The state’s biggest operator of shelters for migrant minors, Southwest Key, recently reopened a Phoenix facility that can house up to 420 migrant youth. Another migrant shelter operator, A New Leaf, is expected to open a new shelter for 52 migrant minors in December. 

Magaña said the Nueva Esperanza program has a staff of about 35 people, and is expected to reach about 60 employees by January.