Based in Austin, Texas, the nonprofit Southwest Key Inc. received almost $500 million in federal funds in 2018 to operate shelters for illegal immigrant minors who are separated from their parents. According to the Dallas News, that expenditure is equal to nearly half of the federal funds intended for unaccompanied alien minors through the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Data from the federal Department of Health and Human Services showed that Southwest Key Inc. earned $1.5 billion from the federal government in the last decade. According to ORR, the agency is housing 11,000 unaccompanied alien minors, of which about half are housed by Southwest Key. A 2016 report by the nonprofit claimed that it had house just over 30,000 minors that year.
However, according to a report by Newsweek, data released by the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees ORR, Southwest Key has received a combined total of $310,824,288 in fiscal year 2018 so far. The awards most recently granted on May 10 in three installments that totaled $99,679,090. The grant was made just a few days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration's policy of separating parents and children at the border, according to law.
Among the shelters operated by Southwest Key is Casa Padre -- a former Walmart store near the international border at Brownsville TX, which has become the focus of attention during the current controversy over unaccompanied alien minors. Southwest Key operates a total of 26 immigrant children’s shelters in Arizona, California, and Texas. It has 17 in the Lone Star state. So far this year, of the $943 million spent by the federal government nationwide on shelter for unaccompanied immigrant minors, Southwest Key has received almost $459 million. This represents a significant increase over the nearly $30 million registered in fiscal 2008 and the nearly $285 million last year.
In Texas, among the shelters operated by Southwest Key is Casa Padre, which is a former Walmart in Brownsville that has received immigrant minors who have been separated from their parents after illegal entry into the U.S. The shelters are located in Bexar, Cameron, El Paso, Harris (Houston), and Montgomery counties. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) is fighting against locating a temporary shelter in a warehouse in his city. On Twitter, Turner wrote,
“There comes a time when we must say, 'This is wrong. We must not sanitize ourselves into thinking that carrying out the policy in Houston is acceptable.”
Funding for Southwest Key grew initially during the Obama administration, especially in 2015 during a surge in the number of unaccompanied minors. It has also grown under the Trump administration. However, because the Trump administration had implemented a “zero tolerance” policy regarding illegal entry, children were separated while their parents await prosecution for the misdemeanor crime of illegal border crossing. Previously, Southwest Key had mostly kept unaccompanied minors.
It pays to be a nonprofit
Juan Sanchez PhD is the president and CEO of Southwest Key. According to his tax returns, the Harvard-educated educator Sanchez earned in excess of $1.5 million from July 2016 to July 2017. In 2013, he made but $466,000. Sanchez started Southwest Key in 1987 in Texas. By the early 2000s, Southwest Key, according to an annual report, had become “one of the country’s largest care providers for unaccompanied immigrant children…” According to Charity Navigator -- which rates nonprofits nationwide - nonprofit CEOs in human services that offer shelter, crisis services and youth development and expending $13.5 million or more on average made $265,000 per year. In the 2015 fiscal year, Southwest Key had $226 million in expenses. Using 2014 data, a Charity Navigator study shows that CEOs of organizations Southwest Key’s size earned less than Sanchez’s salary of that time.
Sanchez noted in a 2007 report that there was a significant increase in the need for sheltering unaccompanied immigrant minors. He wrote, “These young refugees are coming across the border without guardians, homeless and in need of a variety of special support.” Southwest Key thereby opened 100 new shelter beds that year and became one of the country’s biggest providers of services to immigrant minors. Southwest Key grew even more in 2008 when the federal government began funding the nonprofit under the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program.
According to Southwest Key:
“Southwest Key Programs is a national nonprofit organization providing transformative education, innovative safe shelters and alternatives to incarceration for over 200,000 youth and their families annually, while creating opportunities for their families to become self-sufficient. The inspiring youth and parents we work with are seeking the American dream: equality, education, and a higher quality of life. At Southwest Key, we simply open the doors to opportunity so they can achieve these dreams.
“Southwest Key Programs ranks 5th among the Top Hispanic Nonprofits in America, employing a creative and diverse staff of over 2,200 employees. Because of Southwest Key’s work, thousands of youth have been diverted from prisons, jails, and institutions, enabling them to stay at home with their families and out of trouble. Southwest Key has reunified thousands of immigrant children with their families and provided these unaccompanied minors with 24-hour care and education. Southwest Key is one of only three nonprofits in Austin to be accredited by the Council on Accreditation, the nation’s leading human service accrediting body.
“From the start, a cornerstone of all of our programs has been culturally-relevant education. Since 1999 we have refined our model by operating leading alternative schools throughout Texas, preventing hundreds of youth from dropping out of school by providing them with individualized education in a therapeutic setting. In 2009, East Austin College Prep opened at Southwest Key’s El Centro de Familia campus.”
Southwest Key turns away U.S. Senator
In June, Southwest Key turned away Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) at its Casa Padre in Brownsville. Merkley shared video of the incident on Twitter. The liberal Democrat said that “hundreds” of minors are housed at the former Walmart store. Justin Hendrix of the NYC Media Lab wrote on Twitter that Sanchez earned $770,860 in 2015, while the chief financial officer of Southwest Key earned $530,587. When Merkley insisted on entering, police arrived to deter him.
Hendrix of NYC Media Lab noted that Southwest Key earned almost a quarter-billion dollars in revenue in 2015. A 2015 audit showed that the nonprofit received $227,582,409 in federal awards that year alone. $193,948,228 of amont went toward the nonprofit's "unaccompanied alien children" program.
Recently, Southwest Key CEO Sanchez came under fire from employees because of demands that they voluntarily contribute $240 to a fund for medical expenses and other needs for minors interned in his facilities.
Sanchez once served on the Board of UnidosUS -- a progressive/left organization known in the past as the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). UnidosUS asserts that it is the largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S. NCLR cites La Raza (the race) as a "source of pride for many Latinos, the most militant of whom adopted the motto, ‘Por la raza todo, fuera de la raza nada’ — ‘For the race, everything, outside the race, nothing.’” UnidosUS advocates for immigration reform, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and a reduction in deportations. According to UnidosUS, “through our unique combination of research, advocacy, programs, and a national network of nearly 300 community-based organizations across the country, we simultaneously challenge the social, economic, and political barriers that affect Latinos in the United States. Since our founding in 1968, we have contributed to a stronger America by elevating the voice of Latinos, and defending and advancing our community’s concerns. Today, we remain steadfast in our mission to realize a day where all Latinos thrive and their contributions are fully recognized.”
Sanchez has also been a contributor to PODER (power) "People Organized in Defense of Earth and its Resources" - an environmentalist group based in Austin, Texas. He is a recipient of the Ohtli Award from the government of Mexico, which is given in recognition of persons who "have aided, empowered, or positively affected the lives of Mexican nationals in the United States and other countries.”
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.