Companies involved with Trump administration’s family separation policy have business ties to UT

Lisa Dreher

UT-Austin and other UT System schools have partnered with General Dynamics Information Technology and numerous other entities under contract with the United States government, involved with carrying out President Donald Trump’s separation of immigrant children from their parents.

UT-Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering has an ongoing research partnership with General Dynamics, specifically its Mission Systems program. This program includes creating cybersecurity technology and software architecture for aerospace engineering, said Patrick Wiseman, executive director of communications for the engineering school.

The Trump administration in April implemented its “Zero-Tolerance Policy” that separated families illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, as parents were prosecuted and children put into custody. Media reported children were held in prison-like cages and separated from their families for months. The Trump Administration and companies contracting with the government have received public backlash over their handling of the families.

General Dynamics is one of the largest defense contractors in the country but also has done casework for unaccompanied minors since 2000 under its contract with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. The corporation released a statement June 19 on Twitter and said it is not involved in the family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border or construction or operation of detention centers. It has, however, profited off the influx of immigrant children being detained and has posted a flurry of job openings in the months since the immigration crisis ramped up, according to a Reuters report.

Since 2006, the company has provided $1,709,723 to UT-Austin in funded research, according to information obtained by The Daily Texan through a Texas Public Information Act request. 

UT-Austin spokesperson J.B. Bird said in a email the University does not take political stances when it comes to partnerships. 

“As a state agency, the University does not take positions on outside organizations, but it’s important to note that outside funders exercise no control over the results of teaching or research at the University,” Bird wrote.

General Dynamics did not respond to requests for comment.

“The realities of (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) that were exposed to us were certainly troubling,” UT student body president Colton Becker said. “It’s concerning to hear that UT might be partnering with the company that has business ties to ICE in light of what we saw in the summer.”

General Dynamics is partnered with other universities, including Carnegie Mellon, the University of Colorado at Boulder, Virginia Tech, Princeton, Penn State, Georgia Tech, Arizona State, University of Arizona and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, according to a video posted on the company’s YouTube channel.

The University of California System also has ongoing ties with General Dynamics through direct business contracts for its services. Faculty and students asked the UC System to sever ties with the contractor during the height of the immigration crisis over the summer.

Along with General Dynamics, UT is partnered with a host of other companies involved in the family separation policy, according to Daily Texan reporting.

UT System is partnered with Aramark Corporation, which provides food for detention centers, including immigration detention facilities. UT System contracts out Aramark for food catering services, and in the 2018 fiscal year, provided the corporation $70,580.64, according to UT System’s Contract Summary Master Page.

Tech giant Microsoft, accounting company Deloitte & Touche LLC and Xerox also all have ties to ICE or the family separation policy and have business relationships with UT.

Austin-based nonprofit Southwest Key is a group that provides services such as pre-K and juvenile justice programs. Among such programs are migrant children shelters, which helped the current Trump Administration house detained children separated from their families when they crossed the U.S.–Mexico border during the “Zero-Tolerance Policy.”

UT-Austin has previously partnered with Southwest Key for research and fundraising, but does not have an ongoing partnership, said Southwest Key spokesperson Jeff Eller.

“We have enjoyed partnering with UT in the past, however, we currently have no partnerships or contracts,” Eller wrote in an email.

Former UT-Austin social work assistant professor Terrence Allen worked with Southwest Key on a program called “Southwest Key Community Connections,” which provided services and case management for families of youths to prevent them from repeat violations resulting in juvenile detention.

On June 20, the Texas Tribune reported the state inspector found 246 violations at Southwest Key facilities housing separated children, including an employee showing up drunk to work and “inappropriate contact” between facility personnel and children detained in the facility.

Statistics associate professor Daniel Sass at UT-San Antonio said he did the statistical analysis for the Southwest Key Community Connections program with Allen. Sass said in an email he still does statistical analysis for projects with Southwest Key at UT-San Antonio.

“However, none of these projects have (or have had) anything to do with child separation on the border or illegal immigration,” Sass wrote. “These studies only deal with youth that were incarcerated (e.g., for violent and non-violent crimes), and (Southwest Key) is working with them after their release to reduce recidivism rates and improve other outcomes. Therefore, there is no connection to our work and what is currently in the news.”

UT-Austin signed an agreement in 2008 to provide Southwest Key with science kits and purchase materials for Southwest Key’s science teaching staff, according to a public information request by The Daily Texan. Southwest Key also hosted a Walk of Heroes event, where UT’s mariachi ensemble performed for $300 in 2014, according to the open records request.

When asked about the University and University System’s partnerships with companies involved in the family separation crisis, Becker said he plans to let Student Government know about the University’s ties to determine if it is something SG can act on.

“I don’t have all the information to know whether this is something that would be to start advocating against, but I do plan on providing this information … (to) the (SG) representatives,” Becker said.

Eilish O'Sullivan contributed to this report.