On Saturday June 18, as residents of Oracle are expected to be joined by supporters at the Peppersauce Campground to protest the planned placement of Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) at the Sycamore Boys Academy, more questions than answers are coming to the surface.
Area resident Bob Skiba first raised concerns about the influx of 40 UACs, after he was alerted to the plans by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. As a result, on Tuesday, 200 people gathered in Oracle, Arizona to show their opposition or support for the federal government’s decision to move UACs to the unsecure facility for juvenile delinquents.
The UACs never arrived on Tuesday. The delay was blamed on claims that repairs to the facility had to be and it had to undergo a fire inspection.
KOLD News reported that “inspection by the Oracle Fire Chief and a federal permit was issued.” However, according to Larry Southard, Fire Chief of the Oracle Fire Department, “Sycamore Canyon Academy/Rite of Passage is located outside of Oracle Fire District, however for quite a few years I have performed annual “courtesy safety inspections” at the request of Rite of Passage staff. We simply provide Rite of Passage with an informal “walk thru” type of safety inspection, approximately once a year. It’s a very basic inspection and I presume it’s likely a pre-inspection leading up to an inspection by a state regulatory agency.”
According to Chief Southard, the State Fire Inspector’s office is the official fire inspection agency for Sycamore Canyon Academy, and is expected to conduct an inspection this weekend.
On Friday, state officials were unsure as to what agency was involved in the licensing due to the chaos in the Brewer administration’s Department of Economic Services and the creation of the Department of Child Safety after it was discover that Child Protective Services had ignored thousands of abused and neglected child reports.
After two days of inquiring as to which agency licensed the facility, DCS/DES spokesperson Jennifer Bower finally responded in an email sent late Friday afternoon, “Thank you for your inquiry and I apologize for the confusion as I currently work for two agencies as the Department of Child Safety is in transition from the Department of Economic Security. Additionally, the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections (ADJC) often utilizes facilities contracted with or licensed by other State agencies…. I will research your request and provide additional information on Monday.”
On Thursday, ABC News confirmed what AZDI sources revealed earlier, “there is virtually no health screening of any real public health value done on the UACs.” The AZDI first reported, that sources working with the Office of Border Health reported that Arizona health officials have been unable to communicate with federal officials in any meaningful way.
Nor are the federal agencies communicating with each other.” ABC News now reports, “The director of refugee health in the federal Health and Human Services Department “has identified a breakdown of the medical screening processes at the Nogales, Arizona, facility,” according to an internal Department of Defense memo reviewed by ABC News. The “breakdown” is a systemic failure of the handoff of these children between CBP and HHS.”
Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller’s office was told by the Arizona Department of Health that they had not toured the facility in Nogales and has only had “peripheral oversight.”
The AZDI sources reported that there was no free flow of information among federal agencies involved or with state and local officials, which they claimed was leading to concerns with healthcare workers, who said that the lack of information could harm the public. ABC News now reports, “The federal government is so overwhelmed by the current tide of migrants crossing the border it can’t provide basic medical screening to all of the children before transporting them – often by air – to longer-term holding facilities across the country.”
Is that sort of confusion and reports of the breakdown in health screening of the UACs coming from the Nogales Border Patrol station that has heightened the Oracle residents’ and one child advocate’s concerns.
The scenario in which potentially ill minors will be housed with juvenile delinquents who display oppositional behavior and have been described by one teacher as the “worst kids you will ever meet” appears to be a recipe for disaster.
Academy director Ike Shipman has refused to answer questions, but issued a press release:
“Sycamore Canyon Academy, at the urgent request of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Settlement (ORR), will provide safe and temporary care to a small number of unaccompanied youth from Central and South America. These children will be temporarily placed at the campus by the ORR until they can be properly placed with an appropriate sponsor or repatriated to their home country. Sycamore Canyon Academy is working closely with the federal refugee program and appreciates the support we have received for this humanitarian effort.
Sycamore Canyon Academy is not taking a position on the immigration debate in any way. We believe it is for others to decide. Our mission is to improve the lives of youth, and we will continue to fulfill our mission by focusing on our work with children.”
It is the welfare of those children that have residents most concerned.