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Grijalva to tour Tucson facility for detained immigrant children

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva will tour a Tucson facility Friday morning where immigrant children are detained, either because they came to the United States without parents or guardians, or they were taken from their parents as part of a widespread "zero tolerance" policy implemented by Trump administration officials. 

Grijalva's tour comes as public outrage over the separation of children from their parents still simmers. On Saturday, Grijalva went to Nogales, Ariz., and commented on the policy as part of a nationwide-protest hosted in all 50 states and joined by thousands, called Families Belong Together.

The facility, operated by Southwest Key on North Oracle Road, has been open since 2014, and the nonprofit contractor has managed youth justice and immigrant programs across the country for more than 30 years. But the recent steps taken by the Trump administration have again brought the facility into the public consciousness.

Even Southwest Key has tried to create sunlight between its own programs managed by the federal government and the Trump administration's child separation policy. 

Southwest Key stands to receive up $458 million from the U.S. government in 2018, however, the company criticized the family separation policy, writing on their website, "Southwest Key Programs does not support separating families at the border." Noting that the agency has been around for three decades serving young people, including immigrant children, the group said that, "We believe keeping families together is better for the children, parents and our communities, and we remain committed to providing compassionate care and reunification."

Bloomberg reported Southwest Key's grants for 2018, and noted that the U.S. government expects to spend up to $943 million in grants to hold and provide care for children, according to data from the Administration for Children and Families, a part of Health and Human Services. 

Grijalva said he would tour the facility at 10 a.m., and will interviewed by TucsonSentinel.com's Dylan Smith during the Bill Buckmaster radio show at noon.

On May 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Trump administration officials would commit to a "zero tolerance" policy against people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. This required officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection to refer anyone caught crossing the border to the Justice Department for prosecution, including parents traveling with children. This meant that while mothers and fathers were held by the U.S. Marshals before they were prosecuted for the misdemeanor of illegal entry, their children were stripped away from them and handed over to Health and Human Services. 

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From May 5 to June 9, under that policy, 2,342 children were separated from their parents. And, because the policy was, as a federal judge called it "chaotic," even once the program was ended, HHS still has more than 3,000 children in custody, including 100 children younger than five, said HHS Secretary Alex Azar during a press call with reporters on Thursday. 

Azar said that HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement was working through 11,800 cases for "unaccompanied alien children" now in HHS custody, to understand which children were split from their parents by Department of Homeland Security officials. 

And, HHS faces a major deadline. By next Tuesday, July 10, HHS must begin reuniting children young than 5 with their parents after a federal judge imposed two tight deadlines as part of a class-action lawsuit launched by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two women who had their children stripped from them while they were in DHS custody. 

U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw wrote in a 24-page decision that federal officials had 14 days to return children younger than 5 to their parents and until July 26 days to reunite all other children with their parents. 

The lawsuit also showed that Trump administration officials had been stripping immigrant children away from their parents months before Sessions' announcement. 

The decision sent HHS officials scrambling, and Azar said his department had not returned children to their parents by Thursday, because the agency was still trying to vet parents. 

As Dara Lind at Vox noted, this statement is "odd" considering a press release sent out by DHS, which said "The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) have a process established to ensure that family members know the location of their children and have regular communication after separation to ensure that those adults who are subject to removal are reunited with their children for the purposes of removal." 

"The United States government knows the location of all children in its custody and is working to reunite them with their families," DHS said. 

And, according to that same release, CBP had "reunited 552 unaccompanied alien children in their custody who were separated from adults as part of the Zero Tolerance initiative." 

DHS also took pains to note that "there will be a small number of children" who were separated for reasons "other than zero tolerance that will remain separated." 

"Generally only if the familial relationship cannot be confirmed, we believe the adult is a threat to the safety of the child, or the adult is a criminal alien," DHS said. 

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Rep. Raúl Grijalva during the Families Belong Together protest in Nogales, Ariz. on Saturday.

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