By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 25, 2018 ~
Southwest Key Programs first gained national media attention when Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon traveled to Brownsville, Texas on June 3 and attempted to enter one of its Federally-funded facilities to check on the immigrant children who had been forcibly taken from their parents under a Trump administration policy called “zero tolerance.” Southwest Key called the police on Merkley and denied him entry.
Under the policy that was fully implemented in early May by the Trump administration, even immigrant parents fleeing violence in Central America, with a previous lawful right to seek an asylum application in the U.S., were being incarcerated and having their children and infants as young as three months old forcibly taken from them. Over 2,000 children currently remain separated from their parents as a result of this policy.
After enormous public outcry and medical professionals stepping forward to call this emotional trauma to children a form of child abuse, Trump signed an Executive Order on June 20 reversing his child separation policy. He left the zero tolerance policy in place, meaning that asylum seekers will continue to be criminally charged.
What civil rights attorneys have discovered over the past week is that the Trump administration had no concern about how the immigrant parents would ever find their children after separation. The kids were shipped all over the United States with no agency coordinating which child belonged to which parent and where each were located. Indeed, babies and toddlers too young to communicate could offer no assistance as to the name of their parent. Adding to the horror, children who had come across the border with a parent were now being labeled by this system as “unaccompanied,” making it appear that they had traveled alone to the United States and thus removing the urgency of reuniting them with a parent. The final cruelty is that some of the parents have already been deported back to their country of origin, with the child left in an unknown location in the U.S.
As MSNBC’s Jacob Soboroff Tweeted on June 24, “We can track our @FedEx packages down to the *second* if we want to. Why can’t the United States government figure out how to reunite 2,000 *kids* with their parents? Because there was no plan.”
Another attorney helping the desperate parents try to locate their children, Michael Avenatti (also the attorney for Stormy Daniels), told the Arizona Republic this:
“ICE responds we don’t have that information, and this is the rule, not exception. Americans, we get upset when the dry cleaning misplaces a shirt or when our luggage gets lost. Imagine if they took a kid from you and you said, ‘But where’s my child?’ and they said, ‘We don’t know.’ “
A newly emerging question is why any education professional would participate in this cruelty to children and run the risk of being drawn into hundreds of civil rights lawsuits. That question has landed squarely on the shoulders of the husband and wife team, Juan and Jennifer Sanchez, who are running Southwest Key Programs and personally making close to $2 million a year in the process. The couple owns a home in Austin, Texas according to public records which Realtor.com shows as having a market value of $843,000.
Juan Sanchez is the President and CEO of Southwest Key Programs with a Ph.D. in Education from Harvard University, according to his LinkedIn profile. He has spent 30 years building the nonprofit into the largest Federally funded organization for housing unaccompanied children coming across the U.S. southern border from Mexico and Central America. Jennifer Nelson Sanchez has worked at Southwest Key for the past 18 years. To obtain her biography, one must use the Wayback Machine because key portions of the organization’s website have recently been disabled and remain inaccessible to the press.
According to a screenshot of the Southwest Key “Leadership” roster on December 4, 2017 by the Wayback Machine, Nelson Sanchez is Southwest Key’s Vice President of Community Programs and holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Maryland.
The nonprofit’s public tax filings (known as 990s) are available at the Foundation Center and Guidestar. Although the 2016 tax return should be readily available, the most recent return on file is that for the 2015 tax year. That tax return shows that in 2015 Juan Sanchez was receiving compensation of $771,000 while his wife was making $262,000. The tax return also shows that both employees are giving 40 hours a week to the facility.
More recent information obtained from the public tax filing for a related nonprofit called the East Austin Academia Inc., doing business as the East Austin College Prep or, more recently, Promesa College Prep, shows that the compensation of Juan Sanchez at Southwest Key rose by 89 percent from 2015 to 2016, reaching $1,456,001. There is no indication on the filing as to how much his wife is now making at Southwest Key.
According to the 2016 tax filing, Alexia Rodriguez is the non-paid Board Chair of the prep school operation while earning $577,720 at Southwest Key, an increase of 88 percent over his compensation of $307,726 in 2015. Juan Sanchez also sits on the Board of the prep school without compensation. The prep school shares a corporate address and phone number with Southwest Key Programs.
In addition to the prep schools, the Texas Secretary of State shows a host of businesses registered to the corporate headquarters of Southwest Key Programs in Austin, Texas. Those include Southwest Key Café Del Sol, LLC; Southwest Key Data & Evaluation, LLC; Southwest Key Enterprises, Inc.; Southwest Green Energy & Construction, LLC; Southwest Key Maintenance, LLC; Southwest Key Properties, LLC; Southwest Key Workforce Development, LLC; and Southwest Key Youth, Family & Transportation Services.
All of these operations add up to serious money in Federal contracts and grants as well as local and state funds and corporate donations. According to the Wayback Machine, this is how the organization described its programs and funding in October of last year:
“Number of programs: 87
“Program Locations: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, Texas and Wisconsin
“Funding: Our Immigrant Children’s Shelters are funded by contracts with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. All other Southwest Key programming is funded by grants and contracts from federal, state, and local governments, foundations, corporations and private contributions.”
According to a Cox Media report on June 21, since 2015 Southwest Key Programs have “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.” Bloomberg News reported that the nonprofit “is to be paid more than $458 million in fiscal 2018” by the Federal government. That doesn’t include the funds coming from state and local governments and private donations.
Trump’s new family separation policy apparently caught Southwest Key by surprise. NPR quoted a former employee, Antar Davidson, who quit over the fact that the Southwest Key facility where he worked in Tucson, Arizona “didn’t have the trained staff to handle a lot of the younger, more traumatized children coming in,” according to NPR’s report.
Southwest Key has also been found to have serious violations involving the care of children over the past three years. The Texas Tribune reported the following on June 20:
“Inspectors found 246 violations at the group’s 16 facilities in the last three years, records show. On October 11, 2017, at a Southwest Key facility in San Benito, an employee appeared drunk when he showed up to work. A drug test later found the employee was over the legal alcohol limit to drive. Inspectors also found shampoo dispensers filled with hand sanitizer and bananas that had turned black. In two instances, children were made to wait before receiving medical care: three days for a child with a broken wrist, and two weeks for a child with a sexually transmitted disease. A spokeswoman for Southwest Key did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment.”
In media interviews, Juan Sanchez bristles at the characterization that the separated children are being held in “detention centers.” But the organization is not disputing the fact that at one of its largest facilities, Casa Padre in Brownsville, Texas, where 1500 minor boys are housed, the children get only two hours a day of outside exercise and are allowed only two outgoing phone calls per week. That sounds like incarceration to most childcare professionals.
Editor’s Note: Wall Street On Parade does not endorse an open border policy. Our reporting on this matter is to highlight the fact that, once again, the Trump administration is making arbitrary, capricious and inhumane decisions that damage not only the human beings involved but also the reputation of the United States around the world.