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Who We Are

Southwest Key Programs is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1987 to keep young people out of institutions and empower them with the skills, knowledge and tools they need to succeed. Through an exceptionally competent and diverse staff, Southwest Key empowers youth and their families to make positive changes in their lives including at our 23 immigrant youth shelters in Texas, Arizona and California.

First Responders on the Front Lines of Youth Immigrant Crises

Unaccompanied children enter the United States every year from countries all over the world. Some come to escape extreme violence in their home countries; some are trafficked into the country, some come to work, others to escape physical abuse and desperate poverty. For nearly 20 years, Southwest Key’s Unaccompanied Minors Program has been an integral partner in the U.S. response, sheltering immigrant children under 18 years of age who arrive without a parent or guardian.

During the 2014 youth immigration crisis at our southern border, Southwest Key was called upon by the federal government to act as a humanitarian first responder in the care of those children, providing round-the-clock services including: food, shelter, medical care, clothing, educational support, supervision, and reunification support to over 20,000 unaccompanied minors.

About Southwest Key's Unaccompanied Minors Program

Southwest Key is one of the largest providers of services to unaccompanied children in the United States. Our programs encourage the development of personal and academic skills while they are in our care. We honor and respect individual cultures and traditions and provide humanitarian services in a nurturing and homelike environment. During their stay, the children in our care receive educational, counseling, legal, and case-management services on site while awaiting the resolution of their legal case. The average stay in our shelters is about a month as arrangements are made to either reunite the youth with relatives living in the United States or back in their home country.

Frequently Asked Questions About Southwest Key's Unaccompanied Minors Program

How long has the federal government cared for unaccompanied immigrant children in this manner?

Prior to the mid 1990’s, unaccompanied immigrant children were held in federal detention facilities across the U.S. In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Flores v. Reno that such care was unconstitutional and required the federal government to care for these children in a more humane environment through a network of shelter care.

With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, responsibility for these children was transferred from INS to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), an agency under the umbrella of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Southwest Key is a non-profit organization that contracts with ORR to run these immigrant children shelters.

What does a typical Southwest Key unaccompanied immigrant children shelter look like?

Southwest Key provides a comprehensive array of services at its shelters through a variety of different staff that include youth care workers, teachers, clinicians, case managers, cooks, maintenance, administrators, and management. Also, typically numerous volunteers from the local community provide their time, talent, and efforts to support the children during their stay. Southwest Key programs are highly structured and include a daily schedule of activity and supervision. By law, the program is required to maintain staff to client ratios 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Is Southwest Key required to abide by state and local laws in operating these shelters?

Yes, all of the shelters are highly regulated by every level of government, (local, state and federal), and each is licensed by its respective, state childcare authority.

Additionally, Southwest Key Programs has a robust training policy that requires employees to undergo a minimum of 80 hours of classroom and on-the-job training before they can supervise a child. We also comply with state background checks and fingerprinting laws in each state in which our unaccompanied minors program operates.

What kind of impact does Southwest Key have in communities where they operate shelters?

Southwest Key unaccompanied minor shelters operate as a self-contained unit, delivering shelter, food, healthcare, education, recreation, case management and legal services to the children in our care. We are required by the federal government to provide everything that a child needs in order to thrive in a humane and homelike environment. As a result, there is little interaction between the children in our services and the surrounding community, save for those businesses and employees engaged in their care on-site.

Healthcare: The overwhelming majority of medical services are done on site by Southwest Key’s fully-staffed, licensed medical professionals who ensure the health of the children in our shelters. Every child receives a full, medical exam by a doctor within 24 to 48 hours of entering our facilities, including receiving all the CDC recommended immunizations and being screened for any infectious diseases.

Education: While in our care, all unaccompanied minors receive educational services. Our presence in a community does not impact children in the local school system as our kids receive all educational services separate and distinct from local children and they never have an opportunity to interact with one another.

Emergency Services: Given our in-house medical staff there has been little need for outside emergency healthcare services. This is also true for law enforcement as, for the most part, the children have no desire, reason or means to be off-site. As a matter of fact, in FY2014, an infinitesimal fraction of one percent of kids in our care ran away.

Parking and Traffic: Changes in parking and traffic are minimal and attributed only to the businesses and individuals providing services on our sites.

Southwest Key has over 20 years of experience running immigrant shelters with culture-sensitive competency and a kid-friendly environment. We are one of a small subset of providers in this humanitarian field serving unaccompanied, immigrant children in a manner that meets the requirements set forth by the Supreme Court.