Council approves resolution that could end city’s ties to Southwest Key


Resolution directs city manager to halt financial support of groups tied to separation of immigrant families.

Austin-based nonprofit believes it will continue to work with city, Southwest Key spokesman says.

The Austin City Council on Thursday approved a resolution that could sever the city’s ties with the Austin-based nonprofit Southwest Key.

The resolution calls for the city manager to halt any financial support for organizations involved in the separation of immigrant children from their families. It also directs the city to review any existing contracts that might be affected by the new policy.

The vote was 10-1, with Council Member Ellen Troxclair against.

Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria said he brought the resolution before the council because of the controversy surrounding Southwest Key’s involvement with children who have been detained by federal immigration authorities.

“The resolution does not end any contract on its own, but the fact that council took such a strong position today and included direction to review existing contracts makes it more than likely that it will lead to the city ending any current contract with Southwest Key,” Renteria said in an emailed statement.

The city has one current contract with Southwest Key, for the Latino Arts Preservation Project, an arts education and performance project focusing on mariachi, Ballet Folklorico and bilingual theater, according to city records.

In 2018, the city has paid $26,767 to Southwest Key. Since 2008, the city has paid Southwest Key $606,241, according to city records.

Southwest Key supported Renteria’s resolution, said Jeff Eller, a spokesman for the nonprofit. He added that Southwest Key officials believe the nonprofit will continue to work with the city even with the resolution’s passage.

“We support the work of the City Council on behalf of children and their families,” Eller said in a statement. “We look forward to talking with the city manager about the compassionate child care we provide to unaccompanied immigrant children after they are detained at the border. We do not separate families and oppose any family separation policy.”

Southwest Key was criticized after immigration authorities began separating immigrant children from their families as part of President Donald Trump’s so-called zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration. On Aug. 21, Travis County commissioners renewed one of the county’s contracts with Southwest Key, for prevention and intervention services for at-risk children despite activists’ calls for the county to cut ties with the organization.

In late June, the federal government ended its policy of removing immigrant children from their families after they were detained on suspicion of entering the country illegally. Despite the change in policy, more than 500 children have yet to be reunited with their families, according to The Washington Post.

The council also approved a resolution Thursday that calls for local retailers to voluntarily continue to honor the city’s now-defunct single-use plastic bag ban. The city is no longer enforcing the popular ban, which took effect in 2013, after the Texas Supreme Court ruled in June that bag bans and similar bans on disposable shopping bags violate state law.

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