By David Martinez
On Monday, two teenage boys escaped from Southwest Key’s Casa Padre, a child immigrant detention facility in the border town of Brownsville, TX. One of the teens was found by police soon after their escape, while the other returned on his own yesterday afternoon. This is the third reported escape since the facility opened in 2018.
Casa Padre is the infamous immigrant child detention center in a converted Walmart that gained national notoriety in late Spring last year when US Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon attempted to investigate the facility but was denied entry. This visit followed the aftermath of Trump’s zero tolerance policy, which funneled thousands of infants, adolescents, and teenagers into facilities like Casa Padre while prosecuting their parents for criminal entry into the country.
Southwest Key is a nonprofit that runs 26 other children detention centers across the US Southwest. Beginning with juvenile justice programs, the nonprofit has since expanded into operating charter schools and detention centers. In the eyes of Southwest Key, children are nothing more than commodities, allowing the nonprofit to rake in $1.1 billion in government grants.
Southwest Key claims to be a humane place to house child immigrant detainees, but the multiple escape attempts and reports of abuse and mistreatment paint a different picture.
Between October 2017 and June of last year, a Southwest Key official stated that 42 children had left the facilities, many of them climbing fences to escape. Southwest Key claims they are a childcare center and children are free to leave, but their policy is to immediately call local police to chase down escapees.
The nonprofit was permanently banned from New Mexico in the early 2000s after multiple escape attempts and several cases of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. In August of last year, an employee was reported to have molested at least eight children in an Arizona facility. Since then, more cases of sexual abuse in Southwest Key facilities have surfaced.
The purchase of the Casa Padre facility itself has also come under scrutiny as part of a federal investigation into Southwest Key’s mismanagement of government grants.
Southwest Key loaned $6 million to their CEO Juan Sanchez’s business associates Rafael Chacon and Ryad Bakalem which they used to purchase and transform the Brownsville former Walmart into a detention facility. These associates now rent out the facility to Southwest Key at $5 million a year, which is more than the property was originally purchased for.
It serves the interests of US imperialism to portray the horrible conditions and destruction of immigrant lives as simply a question of Southwest Key’s poor management and corruption because scapegoating the nonprofit disguises the exploitation inherent to imperialism. The primary purpose of Southwest Key’s human warehouses is to aid US imperialism in its long-term war against the international working class.
Ending the suffering of immigrant child detainees will take more than reforming or shutting down Southwest Key. US imperialism itself must be confronted.