Migrant youth shelter reform bill approved in Senate

    A Southwest Key facility in Glendale. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

    All 30 Senators voted Wednesday in favor of moving forward a proposal to add oversight of facilities that operate shelters for migrant children in Arizona. The measure will now go to the House of Representatives.

    Senate Bill 1247, sponsored by Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, strengthens background check requirements, gives state health regulators discretion to inspect the facilities and adds requirements on when those facilities notify the state health agency of serious incidents.

    Her bill applies to child behavioral health residential facilities that contract with the federal government.

    Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, introduced the legislation as a response to the recent controversies surrounding migrant youth shelter operator Southwest Key. A committee approved an amendment Feb. 13 that narrowed the scope of the bill and added an emergency clause, meaning the bill needs two-thirds of the votes in each chamber to pass, instead of a simple majority.

    If approved with an emergency, the new regulations would take effect as soon as the bill is signed into law, as opposed to the 90-day waiting period for most new laws.

    Southwest Key is the nation’s largest operator of shelters for migrant minors who arrived in the country alone to seek protection or were separated from their parent. The non-profit has 11 facilities in Arizona, and is under state-imposed restrictions after inspectors uncovered deficiencies in its background check records. Several incidents inside the shelters, including sexual abuse and alleged physical abuse, have prompted public scrutiny.

    The company supports the bill, as do the Arizona Department of Health Services, the Arizona Public Health Association, the Arizona Council Of Human Service Providers and Uncage and Reunite Families Coalition — a community group pushing for more state oversight of migrant youth shelters.

    Laura Gómez
    Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.

    1 COMMENT

    1. I’m so please to hear that our elected officials are doing more to ensure the safety of children that find themselves here in Arizona. When it passes and it better please let us know.

      Is there any opposition in the house?

      Thank you for the story!

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