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Group hit by abuse claims to open New Mexico migrant shelter

August 26, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An Arizona-based company plagued by abuse and mistreatment allegations is planning to open an Albuquerque facility to house migrant teens.

An email recently sent to some Albuquerque residents said VisionQuest will shelter up to 60 teenage boys who entered the U.S. illegally without their parents.

The facility will be located along the city’s historic Route 66 near the University of New Mexico’s main campus. VisionQuest was awarded a $2.9 million contract for the New Mexico site from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. It’s one of several VisionQuest awards for sheltering or running foster care programs for migrant children, according to the department.

The letter said VisionQuest will shelter boys between the ages of 11 and 17 for up to 90 days and will provide “educational services, health care services including vision and dental, community engagement, and recreation for the participating children,” according to an email.

VisionQuest spokeswoman Amanda Burton confirmed to the Albuquerque Journal the company plans to open the center in January. Burton stressed the company does not see the shelter as a “detention center.”

The Department of Health and Human Services currently has responsibility for 7,600 unaccompanied migrant children who were apprehended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after entering the country illegally, according to HHS.

Founded in Tucson, Arizona, in 1973, VisionQuest has faced allegations of mistreatment dating back to 1984. A report by the Rand Corporation found that “the treatment methods used by VisionQuest were unorthodox” and that “the activities engaged in by the youths posed unnecessary risks to their health and safety.”

In 1994, the U.S. Department of Justice documented episodes of physical and mental abuse at VisionQuests’s Franklin, Pennsylvania, campus. Young residents said staffers pulled their hair, used harsh restraints, choked youth and slammed them into walls, WCAU-TV in Philadelphia reported.

The company previously ran a juvenile-justice center in Philadelphia, but shut it down in 2017 when the city halted intake to the facility. The move followed reports that staff had verbally and physically abused children in their care.

VisionQuest’s CEO Peter Ranalli told the Philadelphia Inquirer last year that juvenile-justice centers often face abuse complaints and not all those about VisionQuest were accurate.

“Did we have staff do inappropriate things?” Ranalli said. “When you have 130 staff, somebody is going to do something inappropriate.”

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