Southwest Key: Group operating shelter for migrant children thrust into immigration debate

Posted at 3:11 PM, Jun 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-19 14:12:09-04

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that the unaccompanied minor shelter in McAllen, Texas is run by Customs and Border Protection Agency.


(KGTV) - As controversy swirls over the Trump administration’s immigration policy, the nonprofit organization Southwest Key has been thrust into the public spotlight due to their operation of facilities that shelter migrant children.

Southwest Key runs 26 facilities for unaccompanied minors in Arizona, California and Texas. The centers are funded by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which falls under the Department of Health and Human Services.

Three of the centers in California are in San Diego County -- in El Cajon, Lemon Grove and San Diego.

The group says under their unaccompanied children services program, migrant children “receive educational, counseling, legal, and case-management services on site while awaiting the resolution of their legal case. The average stay in our shelters is about 40 days as arrangements are made to either reunite the youth with relatives living in the United States or back in their home country.”

A 2016 annual report shows the organization served more than 30,000 unaccompanied minors, with the majority of the children coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

In September 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Council recognized Southwest Key’s unaccompanied minors program for its “excellent support to unaccompanied children, including safe and humane conditions and culturally appropriate education and recreation facilities.”

But Southwest Key has seen an increase in mostly negative national attention in recent days, with many immigration advocates criticizing the organization for playing a role in the separation of children and families detained at the border.

Department of Homeland Security officials said nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families since U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy in April.

Additionally, conditions at some facilities have been described by some as inhumane. Visits to a Walmart-turned-shelter in Brownsville, Texas have sparked outrage among advocates over the treatment of those being housed.

The Brownsville center, known as Casa Padre, houses over 1,000 migrants who are minors. The facility includes a mural of President Trump with the quote: "Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war."

Conditions have also been questioned at a Department of Homeland Security-run facility in McAllen, Texas. Video provided by border officials shows tight quarters in steel cages with some migrants using foil as blankets.

Southwest Key does not operate the facility in McAllen, Texas

Southwest Key CEO Juan Sanchez told The Washington Post: “We’re trying to do the best that we can taking care of these children. Our goal ultimately is to reunite kids with their families. We’re not a detention center ... What we operate are shelters that take care of kids. It’s a big, big difference.”

Alexia Rodriguez, vice president of immigrant children's services at Southwest Key, told the New York Times: "We pride ourselves in providing excellent child care. We’re not a political organization. We take care of kids. We take great care of kids.”

According to Southwest Key's Annual Report posted on its website, the organization generated $242,765,041 in revenue for fiscal year 2016.