Southwest Key Programs responds to senator who had police called on him - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Southwest Key Programs responds to senator who had police called on him

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Posted: Tuesday, June 5, 2018 10:52 am

Southwest Key Programs has issued a statement saying the organization regrets turning away a senator from Oregon who attempted to tour the facility on Sunday.

A Facebook Live video showed staff at the Southwest Key Programs facility for minor undocumented immigrant children in the old Walmart on Padre Island Highway calling the police on U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, who said he requested a tour of the facility late last week.

“At Southwest Key Programs, we share Senator Merkley’s concern for children, and we appreciate that he took time to travel to the border. For more than 20 years, Southwest Key has acted as a humanitarian first responder, caring for immigrant children arriving in this country without a parent or guardian. We provide round-the-clock services including: food, shelter, medical and mental health care, clothing, educational support, supervision, and reunification support,” Southwest Key Programs said in the statement.

Merkley is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump’s administration’s policy of separating children from their parents when they immigrate illegally into the country or seek asylum at the country’s ports-of-entry.

In the statement, Southwest Key Programs also takes issue with being described as a detention facility.

“On a final note, it is important to understand that Casa Padre is not a detention facility. It is an unaccompanied minor shelter with many layers of oversight: it is licensed for childcare by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. All of our shelters are regulated by state childcare licensing authorities as well as local and county authorities,” Southwest Key Programs said in the statement.

It also said that federal employees from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which subcontracts with Southwest Key Programs, visits its facilities multiple times each week.

“We regret having to turn away Senator Merkley at our Casa Padre shelter. The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) prohibits any facility from allowing visits that have not been approved by them, even if it is a U.S. Senator. With ORR approval, Southwest Key shelters have welcomed elected and other public officials at our facilities in the past, and will continue to do so, because we are proud of the caring environment we provide these children. We have reached out to the Senator and connected with his staff because we would like to see this happen,” Southwest Key Programs said in the statement.

In the Facebook Live video, Merkley said the administration’s policy is only meant to inflict pain and suffering on undocumented immigrants in an effort to discourage asylum seekers, and wanted to know where Southwest Key Programs stood on Trump’s family separation policy.

“This cruel treatment of children and families arriving to the U.S. is completely un-American and unacceptable,” Merkley said in a press release. “Americans should be outraged by the fact that our taxpayer dollars are being used to inflict spiteful and traumatizing policies on innocent children. The Trump administration’s vicious, heartless family separation policy must be stopped. President Trump should end this policy immediately-and any Republican who claims to embrace ‘family values’ must step up to oppose this cruel anti-family agenda.”

The following is the statement released by Southwest Key Programs

AUSTIN, Texas, (June 4, 2018) – At Southwest Key Programs, we share Senator Merkley’s concern for children, and we appreciate that he took time to travel to the border. For more than 20 years, Southwest Key has acted as a humanitarian first responder, caring for immigrant children arriving in this country without a parent or guardian. We provide round-the-clock services including: food, shelter, medical and mental health care, clothing, educational support, supervision, and reunification support.

We regret having to turn away Senator Merkley at our Casa Padre shelter. The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) prohibits any facility from allowing visits that have not been approved by them, even if it is a U.S. Senator. With ORR approval, Southwest Key shelters have welcomed elected and other public officials at our facilities in the past, and will continue to do so, because we are proud of the caring environment we provide these children. We have reached out to the Senator and connected with his staff because we would like to see this happen.

On a final note, it is important to understand that Casa Padre is not a detention facility. It is an unaccompanied minor shelter with many layers of oversight: it is licensed for childcare by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. All our shelters are regulated by state childcare licensing authorities as well as local and county authorities. Additionally, federal employees from ORR visit our shelters multiple times a week.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

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