Families DividedMore in this series
As the national debate over President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy boiled into a crisis that is prompting the administration to end the controversial practice of separating children from their parents at the border, one Texas-based company is housing nearly half the undocumented immigrant kids in federal custody.
Southwest Key Programs is a nonprofit company hired by the U.S. government to house approximately 5,000 immigrant minors in Texas, Arizona and California. This year, the federal government gave the company almost $500 million to operate its shelters, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Until recently, the company, which was founded in 1987, cared for unaccompanied children who crossed the border alone. Now its founder and chief executive, Juan Sanchez, estimates that 10 percent of the kids living in Southwest Key facilities were separated from their parents, according to The Washington Post.
In an official statement posted to Twitter, Southwest Key said it does not support separating families at the border. The company posted the statement after Trump signed an executive order ending it.
“We believe keeping families together is better for the children, parents and our communities, and we remain committed to providing compassionate care and reunification,” the company tweeted.
Southwest Key Programs does not support separating families at the border. pic.twitter.com/eh4Hp4DEMA— Southwest Key (@SouthwestKey) June 20, 2018
“We are at a maximum right now, pretty close to it,” Sanchez said during an interview with KUT Austin. “We got about 230 additional beds. But we are making room for some additional beds. When we get to 6,000 we're going to be maxed out. And there's a lot of ... discussions now about where are these kids going to go.”
Meanwhile, an investigation by Reveal and The Texas Tribune found that state inspectors found 246 violations at Southwest Key’s facilities, including an employee who allegedly came to work drunk, rotten bananas and shampoo dispensers filled with hand sanitizer.
The company runs Casa Padre, the detention center located in an old Walmart in Brownsville. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, tried to enter the facility in June and was denied access. Southwest Key also operates youth justice programs and charter schools, according to its temporary corporate website.
The company is also growing. The nonprofit leased a warehouse in downtown Houston that it wants to turn into a facility for immigrant children. The facility would house “tender age” children younger than 12 years old and pregnant and nursing teenagers, but city officials are resisting it, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Disclosure: Jeff Eller, a communications adviser to Southwest Key, is a donor to and former board member of The Texas Tribune. KUT has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. The Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.