Members of LULAC district 7, Latino Healthcare, Texas Federation of teachers and other immigration activists held signs and chanted outside Southwest Key headquarters in east Austin on Thursday. The group is demanding the company end all ties with the Austin community.
A group of counter-protestors led by Southwest Key CEO Juan Sanchez gathered to meet with the activists to engage in conversation.
"We do not operate detention centers, we do not operate mini jails, we don't separate families from their parents," Sanchez said. "We've had a great relationship with the city for years and we've had a great relationship with the county for many, many years and we expect to continue to do that."
The company has been at the center of the heated immigration debate after the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy enforced the separation of immigrant families.
A business, the group wants the city to be no part of. The city of Austin has a fine-arts contract with the company and Travis County has about $600,000 in six active contracts for juvenile probation programs. A county spokesperson said the programs are community based and include mentoring.
Located at Southwest Key headquarters is East Austin College Prep, a charter school founded by Southwest Key. The non-profit is in the works of assisting the charter school in building a campus on the east side for grades k-12.
Patti Quinzi a member of the Texas AFT said a company that detains children has no place in Austin.
"When we are supporting an organization that benefits from child detention we are supporting child detention. So this where we make the separation Austin is better than this, Texas is better than this," she said.
Sanchez said his invitation for the activists to sit down and talk remains on the table.