Mexican immigration officials, acting on complaints of abuse and mistreatment, shut down three US-based "youth treatment" centers and began deporting some 590 youths back to the United States, Reuters reported Saturday. The youths were in the country illegally -- as tourists, not residents of a treatment program -- Mexican officials said, and at least one of the centers was run by an American also on a tourist visa who had no legal right to run a business in the country.
"Seventy-five percent of the undocumented Americans have left the country. The rest will stay in the care of the US Consulate in Tijuana until their parents are contacted," said Raul Zarate, a spokesman for Mexican immigration authorities.
In a statement, the immigration ministry said the American kids were residents of the centers, which treat behavioral problems and drug and alcohol abuse. The state health ministry temporarily closed the centers after patients complained of physical and psychological abuses.
Two of the centers have been identified. One is the House of Hope Academy (http://www.houseofhopeacademy.com), which specializes in a 12-step approach to "help troubled teens lead productive lives free of drug-alcohol abuse and dependence," and is led by a US Military Academy graduate.
[House of Hope Academy is not to be confused with the National House of Hope (http://www.nationalhouseofhope.org), another teen drug treatment center operated by Sara Trollinger, a former teacher who "was led by the Lord to establish a faith-based ministry" and who is the author of "Unglued & Tattooed: How to Save Your Teen from Raves, Ritalin, Goth, Body Carving, GHB, Sex, and 12 Other Emerging Threats."]
The second center identified was the Casa by the Sea, a behavioral modification program overseen by the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (http://www.wwasp.com), a for-profit association of eight treatment centers in Jamaica, the US, and, until last week, Mexico. The organization emphasizes that it teaches "respect for authority" and that its programs are "tough". Mexican immigration officials told the New York Times some teens there showed signs of mistreatment.
WWASP president Ken Kay, of St. George, Utah, denied the charges to the Salt Lake City newspaper the Deseret News. "If you're investigating immigration violations, you don't talk to a couple of kids who are angry about being sent away by their parents," said Kay, whose St. George-based company makes millions by enrolling troubled youths at facilities operating in several states and Jamaica. "We had no letters, no notice, nothing. They brought armed guards and six buses to transport the kids across the border."
But the organization has a history of problems. The Deseret News mentioned a case in New York in March where two WWASP employees were accused of assaulting a 17-year-old being transported to a WWASP program. Other assaults have been alleged at WWASP centers in Utah and Montana.
Then there is Tranquility Bay, WWASP's Jamaica operation. The New York Times reported in June 2003 on complaints of misrepresentation, mistreatment and abuse there, noting also that a WWASP affiliate had been shut down under government pressure in the Czech Republic and its Costa Rica affiliate was closed after a revolt by its students there in May 2003.
In a deposition in a lawsuit filed against WWASP and Tranquility Bay, Aaron Kravig, who was sent there by court order, explained the punishment for a moderately serious infraction: "They lay you flat on the floor, one... One of the staff will get on... will like kneel down on your ankles, pressing your ankles into the tile floor. One will probably sit on your back and help another one pull your arms up over your back, so they will like hyperextend your arms, sometimes they do it to your legs. Sometimes they will like, they will set it on pressure points on your body pretty much just to hurt you into subservience, so you won't... so you will do what they tell you. I've seen the director of the facility doing it himself, restraining a kid. We were walking up from night head count and you could hear screaming; you always heard screaming..."
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