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About Southwest Key's Immigrant Children's Shelter Program

For 20 years, Southwest Key has been an integral partner in the U.S. response to the youth immigration crisis at our southern border, sheltering immigrant children under 18 years of age who arrive in this country without a parent or guardian.

Over the shoulder photograph of boy tracing image of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.

Southwest Key’s unaccompanied minor shelters are part of a federal shelter system that was created as a result of the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement. After human rights lawyers filed a class action suit against the federal government for their inhumane detention of unaccompanied immigrant youth, the two parties reached the Flores Settlement Agreement. The agreement mandates the prompt release of immigrant minors from Border Patrol custody, (72 hours or less), before they are turned over to an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that operates shelters and reunifies the children with their parents, relatives or a sponsor. This is the service that Southwest Key's unaccompanied immigrant children's shelters provide.

From the moment a child arrives at one of Southwest Key's shelters, the reunification process starts as case managers begin reaching out to the child's family. While potential sponsors are screened, as required by the Flores Agreement, children receive all services necessary for them to thrive in a safe, homelike and child friendly environment. These basic services include medical care, counseling, case management services, education, recreation, physical exercise, and access to legal services.

Southwest Key's shelter programs encourage the development of personal and academic skills while these children are in our care and we honor and respect individual cultures and traditions.

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 20 years, Southwest Key’s Unaccompanied Children's Services 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.

ORR Contact Information

Para Padres Y Patrocinadores
¿Está buscando información sobre un niño que viene/ha llegado a los Estados Unidos? ¿El niño ya llegó a su hogar? La Oficina Reasentamiento Refugiados (ORR) ha proporcionado una línea de ayuda para padres y patrocinadores.
LÍNEA DE AYUDA: 1 (800) 203-7001
correo electronico: [email protected]

For Parents or Sponsors of an Unaccompanied Immigrant Child
The Office of Refugee Resettlement has created the ORR Helpline For Parents and Sponsors
Call (800) 203-7001
Email [email protected]
Or text the word NINOS to 66467 any time.
O envíe un mensaje de texto con la palabra NINOS al 66467 en cualquier momento.

Request for Case File Information
Outside entities, attorneys, or other individuals seeking UC case file information must make a request to ORR under the appropriate policies and procedures. (Instructions at the ORR website)

Frequently Asked Questions About The Unaccompanied Children's Services 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 detention facilities across the U.S. The 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement set new national standards regarding the detention, release, and treatment of all children in U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) custody. It required the federal government to care for these children in a more humane environment, which has resulted in 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's shelter look like?

Southwest Key provides a comprehensive array of services at its shelters through a variety of staff that include professional medical care providers, licensed social workers and clinicians, licensed teachers, youth care workers, case managers, cooks, maintenance, administrators, and management. Also, typically  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 child care 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 where our shelter program operates.

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

Southwest Key shelters for unaccompanied immigrant children operate as a self-contained unit, delivering shelter, food, healthcare, education, recreation, case management and access to legal services for 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 children 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.

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 in 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 Flores Settlement Agreement.

Reporters & News Media
All media inquiries regarding Southwest Key's shelter program for unaccompanied immigrant children must go to the: Administration for Children & Families
Office of Communications
330 C Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20201
Phone: (202) 401-9215
Fax: (202) 205-9688
Email: [email protected]

All other media requests contact [email protected]