BY ROY ALBERT ANDRADE, K1LLER, Inc.
AUSTIN, TEXAS - Dr. Juan Sánchez, 71, grew up in one of the worst neighborhoods in Brownsville, Texas on the border of Mexico and was fortunate to have a number of caring, supportive adults in his life to influence him to dream big. In 1987, Dr. Sánchez founded Southwest Key Programs in a basement in San Antonio, Texas with a staff of five. Today, Southwest Key Programs serves youth and their families in seven states across the U.S.. The non-profit organization houses more migrant children than any other in the nation. Southwest Key Programs has collected $1.7 billion in federal grants in the past decade, including $626 million in the past year alone.
Dr. Sánchez serves as chief executive, and was paid $1.5 million last year — far more than what his counterpart at American Red Cross made. Southwest Key Programs has created a web of for-profit companies that have helped it funnel money back to the charity through high management fees and helps it circumvent government limits on executive pay. The non-profit is currently sitting on $61 million in cash and paid eight people last year more than the federal salary cap of $187,000. In recent months, Southwest Key has come under scrutiny after a series of abuse allegations. This year, a worker was accused of molesting a teenage girl and an H.I.V.-positive worker was convicted of sexually abusing seven teenage boys at another Arizona shelter.
In a recent agreement with Arizona officials, the non-profit was fined $73,000 and agreed to close two troubled shelters in Phoenix. Though it isn’t illegal, charities rarely lend money for real estate deals. Southwest Key Programs has lent millions of dollars to real estate developers, acting more like a for-profit organization rather than a non-profit. The charity has lent nearly $9 million to the construction companies, for two shelters and a charter school. Dr. Sánchez claims that the nonprofit lends money to developers, because financial institutions take too long to approve construction loans. Dr. Sánchez is accustomed to public scrutiny and still wants to expand.
"As a Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, UnidosUS (formerly NCLR) is fully committed to ensuring the well-being of all children, including those under the care and supervision of our community-based Affiliate organizations. On Friday, August 10, 2018, the Executive Committee of the UnidosUS Board of Directors, acting on behalf of the UnidosUS Board of Directors, voted unanimously to suspend Southwest Key Programs as a member of the UnidosUS Affiliate Network, which includes nearly 300 member-organizations. As a result, Southwest Key Programs is no longer eligible for UnidosUS funding or other Affiliate benefits.
"The unprecedented decision to suspend Southwest Key Programs is a result of recent documented reports of abuse of immigrant children by employees while in Southwest Key-run shelters and under their care. Not only has the organization failed to convey that it understands the gravity and magnitude of the situation, it has failed to offer any words of apology or condolence to the victims or give a sense that the organization is taking any new measures to address completely unacceptable behaviors and practices in an organization that deals primarily with vulnerable children.
"These recent confirmed reports and subsequent lack of action are inconsistent with our expectations for the protection and care of these children and demonstrate a failure by Southwest Key Programs to live up to UnidosUS’s high accountability standards for Affiliates," said UnidosUS, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organizations.
Shawn W. Anderson