The embattled CEO of Austin-based Southwest Key Programs, the nation’s largest provider of shelters for migrant children, is stepping down.
“Recent events have convinced me and our Board of Directors that Southwest Key would benefit from a fresh perspective and new leadership,” Juan Sánchez said in a statement. “Widespread misunderstanding of our business and unfair criticism of our people have become a distraction our employees do not deserve, and I can no longer bear. It’s time for new beginnings.”
Southwest Key has been running shelters for the federal government for two decades. The nonprofit came under fire last spring after the Trump administration instituted its zero-tolerance policy, which separated immigrant families caught crossing the Southern border.
“Our job is to take care of these kids the best way that we can,” Sánchez told KUT last summer. “To provide them the best things we can provide them so they can be comfortable, and then ultimately, how do we reunify them with their families.”
Many immigrant advocates accused Southwest Key of profiting from the crisis, however.
In December, The New York Times reported that the Justice Department was investigating whether Southwest Key misused government funds. According to TheTimes, the shelter operator has received $1.1 billion in federal dollars since the beginning of 2016. The newspaper also reported that Sánchez collected a $1.5 million annual salary – double that of his counterpart at the American Red Cross.
The report said “the nonprofit has engaged in potential self-dealing with its top executives, stockpiled tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and lent out millions for real estate purchases, acting more like a bank than a traditional charity.”
Southwest Key said it would hire an attorney to conduct a review of the issues The Times outlined.
Nathan Bernier contributed to this report.