US Border Imperialism – Turning Walmarts into Child Prisons with Southwest Key

Earlier this month, Jeff Merkley, a Democratic senator from Oregon, attempted to visit Casa Padre, a child immigrant detention center along the US-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas.

In a now viral video, Merkley documents his attempts to enter the facility, claiming he tried calling a week earlier to set up a visit. As he stood in front of the facility, a former Walmart with blacked out windows, the staff called the local police on him and told him he had to leave. Since then, his video has been shared widely in national media and many people outraged by the idea that an elected official of the United States wasn’t able to see the conditions of a facility funded by US government dollars and created by US government policy. The outrage has steamrolled ever since.

While Merkley’s action was little more than liberal Democrat opportunism (a publicity stunt), we acknowledge the important reaction from the masses to his visit and welcome the scrutiny that child detention and Southwest Key are receiving. We intend to explore some of the deeper issues as well as make local connections to the imperialist bourgeoisie and their agents here in Austin. Southwest Key, a massive non-profit headquartered in Austin, not only operates Casa Padre and 26 other child detention centers nationwide, but their main building in Austin also hosts a controversial charter school. For 2018, they have already accepted over $300 million in federal dollars for these centers. While one would think these facts would raise more eyebrows in Austin – which is notoriously portrayed as a hotbed of liberal politics – it is that exact liberalism that has allowed Southwest Key to fly under the radar thanks to liberal activists, non-profit organizations, and Austin’s petit-bourgeois dominated politics that have strategically obscured and/or ignored their ties to border imperialism and blood profits from child detention.

First, some comments on Merkley himself and the joke that is the Democratic Party. Jeff Merkley positions himself on the left of his own party, the Democrats. He was the only US senator to support Bernie Sanders 2016 bid for presidency. Let’s be clear what both Sanders and Merkley are – they are US chauvinists and traitorous social-democrats who abuse the politics of revolution and make them palatable for the left of the US petite-bourgeoisie and keep them in line.

The Democratic Party is as depraved as their counterparts, the Republican Party. These two groups are only the left and right poles of the US liberal bourgeoisie. Democrats have no moral standing to walk the high road on issues of immigration. They are just as complicit in imperialist terror along the US-MX border. While in office, Obama more than earned his nickname – the deporter-in-chief, after sending 11 million people out of the country.


There were mass-led movements against the Obama administration regarding deportations and detention but liberals, were primarily dismissive.

While Democrats now use Dreamers as their political football, they were forced to their current position of unequivocal support by direct action, by Dreamers themselves who sat in and protested Democrat offices during the Obama administration. The real motivator is now that they don’t have their own president in office, they have nothing to lose by opposing (at least in form) whatever position that Trump pushes, so they can play the role of the good cop, bad cop with even more shamelessness, knowing that they will achieve little material change with their grandstanding. Their opportunism is in clear view- they do not actually support migrants (especially those who aren’t attending college or enlisted in the US armed forces) or the global proletariat. They are simply in endless election campaign mode. Like all liberals, revisionists, and social-democrats, it’s always about the next meaningless election and the channeling votes to whatever “lesser-evil” candidate is seeking notoriety.

Trump still has a ways to go to catch up to Obama’s 11-million high-score, and the apparatus he will use to do that was built over the course of past administrations, both Democrat and Republican. Obama especially focused on perfecting them in order to appease conservatives, using the logic of reinforcing the ‘process’. This is the clear mentality of liberal capitalism, to build up the state to smoothly enact capitalist violence and exploitation with as little mess as possible. As we have stated in our election boycott campaign of US elections, it’s all the same shit, different asshole. If Merkley had any real intention to end this system, he would start with resigning tomorrow. We won’t hold our breath waiting for that to happen.

US imperialism is neatly summed up in the fact that Casa Padre was formerly a Walmart. Walmart is a massive imperialist enterprise to distribute low-cost goods manufactured in exploited third-world markets for primarily first-world consumers. As the economy contracts, internet shopping continues to grow, and waves of recessions make consumer spending unreliable, Walmart has shuttered stores that local markets couldn’t support. Converting one of their empty buildings to house people who have fled countries like Mexico, where Walmart has also participated in destroying local economies, is a logical next step for capitalism’s dystopian trajectory.

But regardless of the inconsistency and hypocrisy of liberals, Democrats, and social democrats, we can’t deny that his visit has sparked an important opportunity for the masses to view the mundane horror of the US state’s immigration system. Trump’s election lifted the veil of the US’s fundamental existence as an imperialist criminal for many of the masses, who are beginning to open their eyes and demand change. They recognize that one agent of the bourgeoisie, Merkley, not being able to inspect his own handiwork, shows that the US state is continuing to shed the semblance of a liberal democracy. But as we will point out – it is Imperialism, especially in its liberal form that can also incorporate members of oppressed nations into its project, that creates the conditions for child detention that is not only profitable, but can be passed off as ‘humanitarian’ when you slap a non-profit organization’s face onto it.


Juan Sanchez Shows Chicanos Can Serve Imperialism, Too

One of the facts that is striking for many members of the masses, especially people who are part of the Chicano nation, is that the CEO of Southwest Key, Juan Sanchez, is ‘one of their own’. But we understand that token people from oppressed nations will be enlisted into the project of the US imperialist project, and a select few, like Juan Sanchez, can even achieve bourgeoisie status.

The Chicano nation is an internal colony to the United States. It encompasses a majority of the Southwest United States and demographically consists of many people identified as Mexican-Americans; descendants of people who have lived in the land now known as the US for millennia. The areas along the US-Mexico border are strongholds of the Chicano nation. The Chicano nation is an internal colony, oppressed by US imperialism and denied basic rights and the right to self-determination by the dominant imperialist nation. As Communists we stand for the rights of the Chicano nation to self-determination which goes all the way up to its right to secession.

Southwest Key’s light and airy website speaks of how Juan Sanchez, their CEO, grew up poor in Brownsville, Texas, deep in the heart of the Chicano Nation. This is an attempt to show the typical American Dream myth. But no Chicano, or anyone for that matter, should look up to Sanchez, who has made himself a millionaire off of the destruction of the lives of not only migrants, but children.

Currently Southwest Key has expanded from its role of housing not only children show up to the border without a guardian, but taking in those separated from their parents at the border under Trump’s expanded ‘zero-tolerance’ policy. Trump is now criminally charging all adults who arrive at the border with the crime of illegal immigration. Any children are taken away as the parents are funneled into criminal detention and court. See the recent leaked photos of a mass trial in Pecos, Texas to understand what this looks like. Southwest Key has not denounced Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. All the evidence available indicates that such a policy is extremely lucrative to organizations like South West Key.


This photo of a mass trial of immigrants charged with illegal entry was leaked following the implementation of the ‘zero-tolerance’ policy.

And this is clear when you look at the rising trajectory of Juan Sanchez’s salary over the past years of escalating immigration enforcement. Sanchez now makes $1.5 million as CEO of Southwest Key. This is high, even by non-profit standards. All NGOs/non-profits in imperialist centers are merely arms of the ruling-class, functionally and ideologically, and the high salaries many of them reap are profits from managing the poverty of the proletariat at home and abroad on behalf of the capitalist ruling-class. There is nothing ‘non-profit’ about non-profits. Their business is profiting from upholding systems of exploitation so that the casualties of capitalism can be managed in ways that serve propaganda purposes and outlets for the bourgeoisie. They can write checks and go to gala fundraisers for every cause under the moon when they want some of that sheen. The NGO/non-profit complex are best understood as poverty pimps—administers of poverty who negotiate unfair concessions in the interest of the monopoly capitalist imperialist class.


Juan Sanchez’s LinkedIn. He calls himself ‘El Presidente’ and asks employees to do so as well

Unlike liberals, we don’t find it at all surprising that Sanchez pays himself as much as he does. Thanks to the militarized border of the US and rabid border patrol agents, his business is steadily supplied its merchandise, unaccompanied minors, on a regular basis. When the border patrol isn’t murdering young women from Guatemala, like Claudia Gonzalez, they are capturing children to send to detention centers, whether so-called for-profit or non-profit. The distinction between for-profit and non-profit is meaningless. Both serve the same function of store-housing captured third-world peoples on behalf of US imperialists.

Juan Sanchez and his supporters will claim that once they leave border patrol custody, it is better they end up at a Southwest Key center. But they do not want to address how the system is set up to profit Sanchez and his massive-reaching child detention operation. They have no interest in stopping this situation, and they fall under the same umbrella as the conservatives who they claim to oppose. They cry crocodile tears that people are pushed to flee their home countries but will not stand up to the real enemies at home, especially when they are in the form of non-profits.

Sanchez is a glorified human trafficker. He is no different from the coyote who locks people up in homes until they pay their fee. But instead of paying the coyote, Juan Sanchez gets paid by the US government and then facilitates whatever fates the Department of Homeland Security concocts for them. His excuses boil down to the rational of a dope dealer “if I don’t make millions off the pain and suffering of the people, someone else will”. In reality he is nothing short of a collaborator with the proto-fascism of the Trump administration.

The border patrol keeps Juan Sanchez in business. In fact, his operations fluctuate according to the numbers of unaccompanied children arriving daily on the border. When those crossings have dropped, Southwest Key has laid off employees while the salaries of upper management continue to rise. In response to downturns of unaccompanied minors in 2016, Juan Sanchez said – “Unfortunately over the last three months, it has gone from us being able to serve over 3,000 kids to now serving a little over 800 kids,” Why would this be ‘unfortunate’ to anyone other than those profiting from border imperialism?

Much like the prison system in mostly white, rural towns, many of these detention centers are in mostly Chicano communities with low economic development across the Southwest. People here find themselves with the difficult choice of going without a steady job or becoming a cog in the imperialist border machine. A steady job at a detention center is an enticing prospect. Or, some Chicanos join the border patrol to inflict terror upon people who are no different than their own family members. Chicanos, Mexicans, Central-Americans have high proportions of indigenous ancestry and have crossed what is now the US border for millennia. With the creation of the US capitalist-imperialist state, these historic migrations were criminalized, and now provide fodder and propaganda purposes for the maintenance of US imperialism under Trump.

Sanchez should be recognized for what he is, a Chicano incorporated into the Imperialist bourgeoisie, a traitor to his people, an enemy of the international proletariat, and fundamentally, a criminal. Yet he is able to walk around in a suit and pose for photos nationwide and here in Austin with those who seek to kiss his ring as an example of a Chicano who has ‘made it’. He has made nothing himself, except facilitated ways to prey on third-world peoples through his detention centers and proletarian communities through his juvenile justice centers and his charter school. He does all of this while strategically whitewashing the crimes of US imperialism, by allowing it to don a “Chicano cultural” mask.

Don’t let Juan Sanchez and Southwest Key’s propaganda fool you. The children at Casa Padre in Brownsville are prisoners of the US state, as they are at all 27 of their detention centers. The first thing these children see when they enter the facility, is a mural of Donald Trump himself, with a quote, ‘Sometimes by losing a battle you find a way to win the war.’ It’s in English and Spanish to make sure they get the message. And when was the last time you saw a Walmart with an open-air atrium? Their blacked-out windows aren’t inviting sunshine in. Like Southwest Key, Casa Padre keeps everyone in the dark, with a tough outer-shell that hides the crimes of US imperialism within.

It must be understood that when US imperialism enters crisis, fascism finds fertile ground. While the US lacks sites like Auschwitz and Birkenau it is steadily increasing its own mass internment facilities for innocent human beings, driven by its own master race mentality and its own hyper-nationalism. We insist that to give the death camps a makeover, to disguise them as culturally sensitive, would in no way alter their anti-human nature as death and depression factories. We say the same thing about Southwest Key. No matter how they dress up their prison in cultural garb or frame it as “youth shelters” etc. behind all that they are factories of death, humiliation, abuse and agony. That is the agony of dividing mother and child, the agony of splitting families and incarcerating little ones without mercy for the so-called crime of being from the third-world. Standing with these families, with these children and with the people of the oppressed nations internal and external to the US necessarily means fighting back against Southwest Key and all like it, this means fighting against the fascist policies of this proto-fascist administration and every collaborator and enabler it enlists.

Austin Opportunists Aid Imperialism – We Confront It

Some may wonder how Juan Sanchez has flown under the radar for so long. A big reason for this is the fact that Austin’s reformists, liberals, and non-profit organizations will gladly swallow imperialism if it approaches them with a friendly face. Non-profits like Grassroots Leadership have made a name for themselves fighting against ‘for-profit’ detention centers, yet Southwest Key has faced none of their wrath. This blind spot is unbecoming of those who would claim to be opposed to detention on “humanitarian grounds”.

Meanwhile, Juan Sanchez walks around like a local hero, collecting awards and hob-knobbing around the world. In 2015, the Austin Business Journal named him the Best Non-Profit CEO in Austin. While he gets accolades, he also knows that a big part of protecting himself is building up those willing to take his hand-outs; turning opportunist-careerists into moral body-shields for himself.

So who has Southwest Key given out awards to? Visit their Walk of Heroes and one of the most prominent is Susana Almanza, director of Poder and a vocal representative of the anti-Communist, petit-bourgeois Chicanos in our city. Juan Sanchez himself was there at the inauguration of a mosaic celebrating Almanza installed at Southwest Key headquarters. He recognizes a kindred spirit in her and those who have made a name for themselves selling out their own people for decades. Tasha Banks, the youth services coordinator for Southwest Key, also sits on the Montopolis Neighborhood Planning Contact Team, which Almanza is the president of.


Susana Almanza’s mosaic at Southwest Key, standing with Southwest Key CEO, Juan Sanchez (far right)

These links come together in the form of events like ‘Real Solutions to Austin’s Gentrification Crisis’, held by Community Not Commodity at the Southwest Key headquarters itself. This took place on May 6th. In addition to a gaggle of liberals and sell-outs, they had a real estate developer, Ed Wendler, on the panel. Undoing White Supremacy Austin, another liberal group, appointed themselves the panel’s personal bodyguards and physically blocked people from entering who they subjectively profiled as ‘radical’.

This circus gathered to discuss displacement in the arms of a corporation that profits from the displacement of third-world peoples. Susana Almanza has directly participated in facilitating the displacement of the immigrant communities in working-class housing, as they are the primary targets of gentrification. Recently Almanza’s sell-out adventures have included inviting landlords into tenant community organizing meetings in an attempt to overrun and suppress the communities’ ability to organize against landlords who will gladly sell their neighborhoods to developers.


Community Not Commodity’s Anti-Gentrification event held at Southwest Key

All of these groups, Poder, Community Not Commodity, Undoing White Supremacy Austin, and so on, are integrated parts of US imperialism. They ideologically, and literally, defend the doors of Southwest Key from those trying hold to Southwest Key accountable for its crimes against third world peoples.

It’s no surprise to us that these very damning connections can be made between the identity opportunists of yesteryear and the profitable business of fascistic child internment. Following the money trail of these types will often lead you to similar conclusions—if they aren’t serving the people, they are working against them when they present themselves as community representatives and activists.

There is a new tide of revolutionary forces in Austin that has dutifully committed to sweeping away the trash heap of local poverty-pimps such as Southwest Key and their counterparts. Communists, local activists, and angry residents here in Austin must be united to fight gentrification and now must tackle the giant monstrosity that resides in our backyards, Southwest Key. This fight is not just an Austin fight, or even a Texas fight for that matter. We encourage people across state lines to join us in a campaign against this display of Imperialist exploitation and abuse. The masses have correctly identified Southwest Key as a major enemy of the people. Fighting the continuation of Southwest Key can be done in a variety of different ways, one of them being stripping their local goons of any credibility and integrity amongst the masses here.

The revisionists, NGOs, Democrats and other assorted capitalist lackeys always find themselves incapable of leading these types of struggles as they all lay in bed together when it suits their opportunist goals. Maoists on the other hand do not find themselves in contradiction here as we at every corner aim to expose these people for what they really are, enemies of the people. We Communists must unite with the most advanced masses and engage in fight after fight against US Imperialism and its grotesque displays of abuse against the people. And those that wish to be the body shields for these pigs will undoubtedly be forcefully swept away by the mighty tide of revolution.

End youth prisons!

Expose the Non-profit industrial complex!

 Death to US imperialism!

Red Guards Austin 2018