Detaining children — who benefits?

Published 8:24 pm Friday, July 6, 2018

The President’s “zero tolerance” policy for immigrant children may have been reversed by Executive Order, but moral questions about its effects on children, parents and families continue.

I won’t get into that exchange. But there is another moral issue that I would like to broach —  one that is rarely mentioned. And that’s the morality of multi-million dollar companies who are profiting from the misery of children separated from their parents at taxpayer expense.

For the last three weeks, I was under the impression that the facilities in which children are held against their will and that of their parents were owned and operated by a government agency, like ICE or the Department of Health and Human Services. I have since discovered otherwise. The Brownsville, Texas center and most of the other 100+ detention centers throughout the nation are owned by private corporations and leased to the government and managed by private corporations under contract with the federal government.

For example, the Brownsville facility, which has drawn attention from members of Congress and been the subject of numerous newspaper articles and TV reports, is owned by a Texas limited liability corporation, Chacbak LLC, leased to the government, and run by Southwest Key, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Texas.

According to a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek report, in fiscal year 2018, SWK is to be paid $458 million to oversee 16 facilities in Texas, of which it has received $204.5 million so far — 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 addition, SWK may be a nonprofit but that has not stopped it from handsomely compensating its CEO. SWK rapidly increased the compensation of its CEO, Juan Sanchez, from about $269,000 in 2010 to more than $786,000 in 2015. His compensation nearly doubled to $1.5 million in 2016, according to tax records for an Austin charter school he founded.

How has SWK treated the children placed in its care? According to a June 20 article in The Texas Tribune, its shelters have a long history of regulatory inspections that have uncovered serious health and safety deficiencies.

Texas inspectors found 246 violations at the SWK’s 16 facilities in the last three years, including 13 at the Brownsville facility. 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,” the article states.

The forceful separation of children from their parents may have ended, but multi-million-dollar private corporations and their rich CEOs will continue to benefit financially from the detention of babies, toddlers, children and teens in facilities that often fail to take proper care of them. We would not tolerate the government and its landlords and contractors treating our own children like that. Are we willing to condone the detention and ill treatment of other innocent children simply because they are not like us?

Polk Culpepper is a retired Episcopal priest, former lawyer and a Washington resident.