In recent weeks, the Trump administration’s cruel policy of separating children from their parents who are detained at the U.S.-Mexico border dominated news headlines. Disturbing images and audio clips from processing centers and shelters housing children generated mass outrage among millions of people and numerous elected officials. More than 2,300 children that have been separated from their parents linger in shelters like the former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, which houses around 1,500 children and has come to symbolize the larger story.
After days of intensifying public pressure and outcry, the Trump administration finally decided yesterday to end its policy of family separation, though families will remain in detention indefinitely. Nor does Trump’s order address what will happen to the children who have already been separated from their parents.
Against this backdrop, there has been increasing concern over who exactly has been profiting from these policies that incarcerate immigrant families. Who are the companies, investors, banks, and top executives that stand to make money – or are already profiting – off of the zero tolerance and family separation and indefinite detention policies? And more importantly, can they be pressured to end their complicity with and enabling of Trump’s inhumane immigration policies?
HARLINGEN, Tex. — The business of housing, transporting and watching over migrant children detained along the southwest border is not a multimillion-dollar business.
It’s a billion-dollar one.
The nonprofit Southwest Key Programs has won at least $955 million in federal contracts since 2015 to run shelters and provide other services to immigrant children in federal custody. Its shelter for migrant boys at a former Walmart Supercenter in South Texas has been the focus of nationwide scrutiny, but Southwest Key is but one player in the lucrative, secretive world of the migrant-shelter business. About a dozen contractors operate more than 30 facilities in Texas alone, with numerous others contracted for about 100 shelters in 16 other states.
If there is a migrant-shelter hub in America, then it is perhaps in the four-county Rio Grande Valley region of South Texas, where about a dozen shelters occupy former stores, schools and medical centers. They are some of the region’s biggest employers, though what happens inside is often highly confidential: One group has employees sign nondisclosure agreements, more a fixture of the high-stakes corporate world than of nonprofit child-care centers.
The recent separation of some 2,300 migrant children from their families under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal border crossers has thrust this invisible industry into the spotlight in recent weeks, as images of toddlers and teenagers taken from their parents and detained behind locked doors have set off a political firestorm. President Trump’s order on Wednesday calling for migrant families to be detained together likely means millions more in contracts for private shelter operators, construction companies and defense contractors.
This week, the news has been dominated by horrifying scenes from the border of children being ripped apart from their parents who the federal government is criminally prosecuting. The best solution is to repeal the laws that allow for this injustice in the first place. That’s a far cry from the administration’s announcement today that families would be detained together in family detention centers during and following any criminal prosecution.
The separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents is a direct result of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to prosecute all migrants apprehended at the southern border, including asylum-seekers and parents coming to the border with small children. The so-called zero-tolerance policy is part of a series of efforts by the Trump administration to use the federal criminal justice system to punish immigrants — often those fleeing persecution and violence — and their supporters by criminally prosecuting them.
Ever since the Texas legislature last year passed one of the country’s most aggressive “anti-sanctuary city” laws, some enclaves have fought officials over the extent to which police can ignore federal immigration law.
The state regulation known as Senate Bill 4 has been described by opponents as the “show your papers” law for allowing officers to ask about the immigration status of anybody arrested or detained. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law in May 2017, and Austin was among the first cities to challenge it in federal court. The law is currently in effect while a case against it proceeds.
The Trump administration, in the midst of legal battles against some states and cities for their sanctuary policies, has cheered Texas even as officers in cities such as Houston and Austin have rarely used the law to ask immigration questions. Some cities have indeed followed a part of the Texas law that calls for police to hold detainees believed to be in the country illegally. The White House has said dozens of sanctuary cities and counties in the country are breaking federal law for not fully cooperating with immigration authorities and has threatened to withhold public safety grants from them. The Texas governor has shared a similar argument, and echoed Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions in his belief that sanctuary cities promote crime.
Amid the controversy over sanctuary cities, Austin this month took its fight against strict immigration law enforcement a step further by declaring itself to be the first “freedom city” in Texas. City Council members unanimously passed two resolutions last week that will restrict police attempts to question immigrants about their status and curtail arrests for nonviolent crimes.
SAN FRANCISCO — In an open letter posted to Microsoft’s internal message board on Tuesday, more than 100 employees protested the software maker’s work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and asked the company to stop working with the agency, which has been separating migrant parents and their children at the border with Mexico.
“We believe that Microsoft must take an ethical stand, and put children and families above profits,” said the letter, which was addressed to the chief executive, Satya Nadella. The letter pointed to a $19.4 million contract that Microsoft has with ICE for processing data and artificial intelligence capabilities.
Calling the separation of families “inhumane,” the employees added: “As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit. We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.”
EVANSTON — The Uinta County Commissioners and Evanston City Council unanimously voted last spring for resolutions supporting the proposed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center that the private company Management Training Corporation (MTC) is pursuing just outside Evanston city limits. However, across Wyoming, opposition is mounting and organizing.
WyoSayNo — described by organizer Antonio Serrano as a coalition of concerned people who are from Wyoming, love Wyoming and are concerned about the impact such a facility would have on Wyoming communities — has a website, an active Facebook social media presence and an official launch event scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 13, in Cheyenne, with simultaneous watch parties scheduled in communities around the state.
Dalia Pedro, fellow organizer, said the purpose of the WyoSayNo group and the launch event is to provide information on what an immigration center would mean for Wyoming communities, including those in Uinta County, and to hopefully stop its construction.
Serrano and Pedro said they are very concerned about the proposed center for several different reasons. Both said they work extensively with immigrant families in Wyoming and believe an ICE detention center would be detrimental to Wyoming communities by breaking up immigrant families.