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Southwest Key: A look at one of the companies sheltering migrant children

Following the implementation of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, aimed at those who would cross the border illegally, upward of 2,000 children were separated from their parents as the adults were turned over for criminal prosecution.

While the adults went to jail, the children, some only infants, were placed in the custody of the federal government. After briefly being detained by the Customs and Border Patrol, the children were then transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services.

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From there, children were sent to shelters – around 100 in 17 states – until family or friends can take custody of them or they are assigned to foster homes or other centers.

One company providing shelter for thousands of migrant children that have come before and after the zero tolerance policy is Southwest Key Inc. For years the company has had contracts with the federal government to care for immigrant children. Those contracts have made the company more than $1 billion in the past decade.

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Here’s are a few things to know about Southwest Key:

  • It’s a nonprofit organization that, according to its website “contracts with government agencies and private foundations to operate three types of programs throughout the country: youth justice programs, charter schools for kids in underserved neighborhoods, and shelters for immigrant youth. 
  • According to Bloomberg, Southwest Key has the most lucrative contract with the federal government and will be paid the “most among the organizations, government agencies and companies that run a detention and care system for immigrant children on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services.”
  • In fiscal year 2017, 11,100 minors went through Southwest Key facilities in Texas alone.
  • Since 2015, it has been awarded $955 million in federal contracts. According to U.S. Health and Human Services data, Southwest Key Inc. has made $1.5 billion from the federal government since 2008. It is on track to be paid more than $458 million in fiscal 2018.
  • Juan Sanchez is president and CEO. He started the company in 1987. In 2016, his compensation was $1.5 million.
  • The nonprofit also operates schools for minors in the custody of the juvenile justice system.
  • According to The New York Times, only 10 percent of children in Southwest Key facilities were separated from their relatives. The majority of minors housed by Southwest Key came to the United States alone as unaccompanied minors.
  • Casa Padre, the Southwest Key’s shelter that has garnered attention in the past week, is holding nearly 1,500 boys, ages 10  to 17 years old.
  • Casa Padre has classrooms, medical offices, on-call physicians, work cubicles, movie theaters, a barbershop and a cafeteria.
  • Southwest Key runs 26 immigrant children’s shelters in Texas, Arizona and California. It also operates in four other states, Georgia, New York, Wisconsin and Florida
  • The company issued a statement about the policy of separating migrant children from their parents saying:  "Southwest Key Programs does not support separating families at the border. For 30 years, our work in offering youth justice alternatives, immigrant children's shelters, and education have served to improve the lives of thousands of young people. We believe keeping families together is better for the children, parents and our communities, and we remain committed to providing compassionate care and reunification. For every child who has come through our shelter doors, we start on day one to reunite them with their parents or a family sponsor and to provide the kind of service that will help them thrive. This has been our priority for decades."
Dignitaries take a tour of Southwest Key Programs Casa Padre, a U.S. immigration facility in Brownsville, Texas, Monday, June 18, 2018, where children are detained. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

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