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Shelter operator withdraws its NM appeal

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The private company trying to launch an Albuquerque shelter for undocumented, unaccompanied children will not continue appealing a state decision to deny its license.

Arizona-based VisionQuest on Tuesday notified New Mexico’s child welfare agency that it was officially withdrawing its appeal of the state determination.

The company has a $2.9 million federal grant to open a shelter in New Mexico for immigrant minors who enter the country without their parents but must have a state license to operate it.

The state Children, Youth and Families Department in August denied the company’s license application to open a shelter near the University of New Mexico.

In denying the application, the state alleged that VisionQuest purposely provided incomplete and misleading information about why Pennsylvania in 2015 temporarily revoked the license for one of the company’s residential facilities. VisionQuest blamed a “misunderstanding” during the New Mexico application process and asked the state for an informal resolution conference.

But the result of that Oct. 4 conference was the same – the state affirmed its August determination, although it gave the company a chance to appeal and proceed to an administrative hearing.

VisionQuest’s president and CEO, Mark Contento, told a CYFD official in an email Tuesday that although the company previously indicated its intention to appeal, it was instead withdrawing the appeal.

“Please let me know if you have any questions or need any clarification of VQ’s intentions regarding that appeal,” Contento’s email to the CYFD’s Lillian Rainer said. “Otherwise I will consider the matter of this appeal closed.”

The email provides no explanation, and VisionQuest did not respond to Journal questions by deadline.

A spokesman for the CYFD said the company could submit a new application for the state to consider.

“That is their only option going forward, but we haven’t talked to them” about whether they will go that route, said CYFD spokesman Charlie Moore-Pabst.

Correspondence between the state and the company seems to indicate a new application would not change much.

“Please note that CYFD’s Licensing and Certification Authority has wide latitude for denial of an initial application, including past regulatory history, for all types of facilities,” CYFD Chief General Counsel Kate Girard wrote to a VisionQuest attorney this week. “The same information CYFD received from VisionQuest in the initial application shall be utilized in making determinations on applications for different types of facilities.”

VisionQuest had planned to use a currently vacant building near UNM to house up to 60 boys ages 11 to 17 who were in federal custody after crossing the border without their parents.

But the company’s proposal generated local backlash because the company, which operates programs in six states, has faced multiple allegations that it has mistreated or abused young people at its other facilities.

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