AUSTIN -- Community groups are calling for an end to all contracts with Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit group that's caring for thousands of migrant children.
The group began more than 30 years ago with the founding of East Austin College Prep as a charter school focused on accelerated learning. The nonprofit gained national attention this month for its role housing thousands of migrant children along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"We have been doing it for 20 years, and we are proud of the fact that we take care of kids," said Jeff Eller of Southwest Key.
Eller said the group is receiving safety threats against its headquarters and staff. Southwest Key's website has been down for more than a week. The group's shelters house many of the children still separated from their parents by immigration officials under President Trump's 'zero tolerance' immigration policy.
"It's heart wrenching. It's immoral," said Frank Ortega of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.
Ortega and his allies are calling on cities and counties throughout Texas to cut all ties with Southwest Key.
"We want to make sure that every city and county in the state of Texas revoke their funding towards these programs," Ortega said.
Government data shows Southwest Key has received more than $1.55 billion from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since 2002. The Texas Health and Human Service Commission approved plans to allow Southwest Key to open a new Child Detention Center. Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, asks the public to help block the center's final approval.
"The application submitted by Southwest Key Program has been accepted by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and the State now has 21 days to complete a standard-by-standard inspection of the facility," Garcia said. "The acceptance of the application does not enable Southwest Key Programs to immediately begin to operate the proposed Child Detention Center, rather it is the first step in a process. Our office will continue to monitor this situation and advocate for the State to deny Southwest Key Programs application. I encourage anyone who opposes this proposed detention center and President Trump’s 'zero-tolerance' immigration policy to continue the fight to keep this facility from opening. We must stand against the establishment of infrastructure for cruelty to children in our community."
Eller said Southwest Key has not changed its duties in the two decades it's housed immigrant children.
"What troubles us is what has become an inability in this debate to separate policy from childcare," he said.
Eller notes Southwest Key shelters do not have cages and Mylar blankets, as have been shown at other holding facilities.