Nonprofit To Get $458 Million For Migrant Housing Centers

REUTERS/Loren Elliott

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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The Trump administration is set to pay a Texas nonprofit nearly a half billion dollars this year to house migrant children who were detained crossing the border illegally, according to government data.

Southwest Key Programs will receive $458 million in fiscal year 2018, more than any other organization that contracts with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to run shelters for migrant kids. The government paid the Austin-based nonprofit $286 million in 2017 and $211 million in 2016 for similar services, according to a Bloomberg review of government figures.

Since 1997, the Southwest Key has housed thousands of migrant children who crossed the border without adult relatives, and today it operates 27 migrant shelters in Texas, California and Arizona.

But the nonprofit has been thrust into the public limelight in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to implement a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossing. The policy instructs federal prosecutors to charge as many illegal immigrants as possible with unlawful entry, regardless of whether they are traveling with children. It has led to a spike in the number of migrant children turned over to HHS, and many of them have been sent to Southwest Key facilities.

Southwest Key’s role in the process became the focus of intense media scrutiny earlier this month, when Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon showed up on short notice to its facility in Brownsville, Texas and was denied entry by staff there. Merkley’s office went on to get into a spat with HHS officials over the visitation policy at the shelters, but the senator and reporters from several media outlets were ultimately allowed to tour the Brownsville shelter. (RELATED: Trump Administration Reopens 1,000-Bed Shelter For Migrant Children In Homestead)

Since then, the Trump administration has leaned on Southwest Key to an even greater degree to handle the influx of migrant children requiring care while their parents are criminally prosecuted. The nonprofit confirmed Friday that it has been hired to convert a vacant warehouse in Houston into a shelter for up to 240 young migrant children, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The warehouse has been used to house women and homeless families, as well as adults displaced by Hurricane Harvey last year.

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