Separated From Their Children, Border Detainees Ask ‘How Could This Be?’

There’s still no system of coordination between parents and kids.

By Laura RiceJune 19, 2018 12:28 pm,

The former Walmart-turned-detention center in Brownsville known as Casa Padre is run by the massive nonprofit organization Southwest Key, which got its start housing around 50 children on the border. With its office located in Austin, it’s since expanded to multiple locations in multiple states. Marketplace’s Andy Uhler says that although Southwest Key is a nonprofit, the reality is more complex.

“People around here are talking about nonprofit by name only,” he says, “because they’re in charge of so much money.”

The organization could continue to grow, too.

“City officials were telling me that the feds are asking Southwest Key to actually take in 1,500 more kids,” Uhler says. “It’s one of these nonprofit businesses that just keeps expanding because there’s so much need for it.”

Southwest Key operates through a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but Uhler says there’s a major lack of coordination between the agencies that process parents and their children.

Uhler sat in on a mass guilty plea for 55 people in federal court in which a father asked about the location of his son. The judge was forced to call a recess because this was the first he’d heard of the man being detained with his six-year-old boy.

“The detainee just kept asking the public defender, ‘How could this be?’” Uhler says. “The judge came back in and apparently the government had figured out in those few minutes that this child was detained, was kept by Southwest Key in Brownsville for a while, but had been shipped to San Diego.”

The Salvadoran father said he had no family in California and didn’t understand why the government would relocate his child so far from him. In response, he was told that his son must have mentioned California.

Rogelio Nuñez, the executive director of the non profit Casa de Proyecto Libertad in Brownsville, told Uhler that the existing logistics of the situation make it almost impossible for the system to work.

“The mothers don’t know where their kids are. And of course these kids, how are they going to call their mother who is in federal custody?” Nuñez says. “One of the strategies of ICE and one of the strategies of most of the administrations is that people who are detained are moved to other facilities throughout the nation.”

For the people of Brownsville, the national attention is creating tension and stress, and Uhler says locals are hoping for life to return to normal.

Written by Sarah Yoakley.