Group holding immigrant children settles ex-employee claim

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This June 20, 2014, file photo, shows a Southwest Key program sign in Brownsville, Texas. A provider of shelters for immigrant children is looking to reopen two facilities that the state of Arizona forced it to shutter last year because of issues with employee background checks and allegations of abuse. Southwest Key has filed applications to reopen a facility in downtown Phoenix and one in an outer suburb where employees were investigated for child abuse but never charged. The nonprofit filed the applications in June and July. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice says a Texas-based organization that runs facilities to hold immigrant children has settled a retaliation claim from an ex-employee.

Southwest Key Programs will pay $68,000 to the employee, the Justice Department said in a Friday news release. DOJ alleged the employee, who it did not name, applied for several jobs at Southwest Key but was denied because he had said he would file a discrimination claim against the organization. If proven, those allegations would have violated federal anti-discrimination law, DOJ said.

Southwest Key operates several facilities in Texas and elsewhere that house immigrant children under the authority of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Those facilities include a former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, converted into a 1,500-bed facility called Casa Padre.

When the Trump administration implemented the wide-scale separation of immigrant families in 2018, Casa Padre and other Southwest Key facilities became controversial symbols of government policy. Southwest Key’s founder and CEO, Juan Sanchez, stepped down in March 2019 after investigations into abuse and assault of children detained at its facilities, criticism of the salaries he and his wife were receiving, and allegations that the organization had mismanaged funds.

A Southwest Key spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

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