A former staffer who called out conditions at an Arizona migrant shelter had more to say this weekend about the poor management of centers currently housing undocumented children.
Antar Davidson spoke with MSNBC’s Yasmin Vossoughian on Sunday (h/t Raw Story) about the Estrella del Norte shelter in Tucson, Ariz. The shelter has served as a temporary home for unaccompanied children who’ve crossed the border, but in recent weeks, kids ripped apart from their guardians by U.S. immigration authorities have flooded the center.
Davidson told MSNBC that shelter workers only received “a week’s worth of training, which included CPR.”
They also had no professional experience caring for children.
“The youth care workers, most of them prior to this were in construction or in the restaurant business or retail,” he said.
Davidson told the cable news outlet that the Estrella del Norte shelter operated less like a humanitarian organization and more like “a private prison.” He added that the shelter had trouble hiring people with the “necessary skills” and speculated that the low pay may have limited the shelter’s ability to recruit adequate workers.
“This is a federal level of responsibility we’re talking about, and the workers undertaking this increasingly difficult task are not given federal-level benefits and support,” he also said. “So the people are just being tossed out there unprepared.”
Davidson first spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the conditions in the Estrella del Norte shelter, which is operated by a Texas-based nonprofit, Southwest Key.
Southwest Key is among the largest child-migrant-shelter providers in the U.S., running 27 government-contracted shelters in Arizona, California and Texas, reports the Times. Nearly 25,000 children came through its facilities last year.
Davidson told the Times that the increased caseload has put the shelter under great strain, and its staffers were ill-prepared to handle the children coming their way, many of whom were dealing with considerable trauma. Records reviewed by the Times showed that several children at the shelter were monitored last week because they were “at risk of running away, self-harm and suicide.”
According to Davidson, the final straw came when a shelter worker told him to stop three distraught Brazilian siblings from consoling one another. They had been separated from their parents, who they thought might be dead (a worker told the kids their parents were “lost”).
“Tell them they can’t hug,” Davison says he was told.
A spokeswoman for Southwest Key, Cindy Casares, refuted Davidson’s claims, telling the Times that its shelters met all state requirements for staffing ratios and training. Staff members reportedly must be bilingual and receive 80 hours of training before working with the kids.
“Our staff has great expertise in dealing with this population,” Casares said. “We have very high professional development standards.”