Ex-employee says traumatized children filling migrant shelter in Tucson

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Antar Davidson told Arizona's Family reporter Carissa Planalp about his former employment at a Tucson shelter for migrant children separated from their parents at the border. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Antar Davidson told Arizona's Family reporter Carissa Planalp about his former employment at a Tucson shelter for migrant children separated from their parents at the border. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
TUCSON, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

A Tucson man who worked at a child migrant shelter says kids are being traumatized in facilities along the southern border.

Antar Davidson says he was hired in February to hold a Brazilian martial arts course at the shelter near downtown Tucson. He says he was called to another room to assist workers with three Brazilian siblings who were being sent to different rooms according to their ages.

[READ MORE: Children and parents are being separated at the border. Here's what we know]

[RELATED: 2,000 minors separated from families at border, Dept. of Homeland Security reports]

“All of them were crying, tears were streaming down their faces," he said. "The little kids were saying, 'Please don’t separate us.' At that point, the shift leader arrived [and said], 'Tell them that they can't hug.' She told me very aggressively.”

Davidson says he could not enforce the shelter’s “no-touching policy” so he quit.

[RELATED: Separated children put in cages, given foil as blankets at Texas Border Patrol facility]

[VIDEO: See where people arrested for illegal border crossing wait for trial in McAllen, TX

“This is illustrative of the lack of compassion of this organization,” says Davidson.

The 300-bed facility used to be a student housing complex but began housing migrant children a few years ago when the U.S. saw an influx in children fleeing dangerous and violent conditions in Central America.

Davidson says in the last six weeks of employment, he noticed something different about the children sent to the facility.

“There was an acute uptick in the intensity of the acting out of the kids,” he said. “These were very small children ripped from their parents and not told what would happen.”

[RELATED: Sessions: Zero-tolerance policy may split families at border]

He says kids were scared, confused, and some told him they had been misled about when they would be reunited with their families. Davidson says the trauma caused the children to act out and employees were often reminded of ways to safely restrain them.

[RELATED with SLIDESHOW: Recording of crying children at border adds to outrage]

“We're not talking about choke holds here, but a very clear increase in a more hands-on physical approach to trying to control these kids, which only leads to more misbehavior more trauma,” says Davidson. 

Davidson says one of the reasons he’s speaking out is that once these children are put into homes, they are sent to public schools -- and they're already emotionally frayed.  He says there were not enough clinicians on staff to care for the kids’ mental health.

[RELATED: This is the handout immigrant parents get before they're separated from their children]

The Tucson facility is run by nonprofit Southwest Key and contracted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Both denied interviews and access to the shelter and did not respond to follow up questions submitted through email.

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