Democratic candidate for Texas House previously worked with troubled migrant shelter

by | Feb 21, 2022 | Politics, Texas Elections

Luis Villarreal Jr., a Democratic candidate for Texas House District 37, previously worked at SOG International, a staffing and security company that partnered with Sunny Glen, a shelter for migrant children with a troubled history of abuse in Texas.

Villarreal worked as the chief operating officer at SOG International for one year between 2019 and 2020, according to his LinkedIn profile. On his campaign website, Villarreal states he “partnered with Sunny Glen Children’s Home to provide job placement for young adults who aged out of State foster care programs.”

The evangelical foster care nonprofit Sunny Glen made headlines during the Trump administration for receiving millions of dollars to house migrant children despite its history of child care violations from state investigators. 

Texas Health and Human Services has issued Sunny Glen 108 citations since 2017 for deficiencies in their shelters. Dozens were listed as “high risk” deficiencies, including: restraining a minor on the ground and restraining a child whose behavior was not threatening or harmful; mix ups with prescription medication and failure to refill prescription medication (in one case a minor went without his medication for two weeks); failure to supervise a child who had attempted self harm three times in a 24-hour period; using personal restraints that made it difficult for children to breath, and slapping a child’s leg to correct their behavior.

The month Villarreal became COO at SOG International, the company announced plans to open a shelter for unaccompanied migrant children, the Sunny Glen New Day Resiliency Center in Raymondville, about 45 miles from McAllen.

U.S. Health and Human Services documents recently obtained by Fox News reveal Sunny Glen also has issues with sexual assualt and abuse at its Texas facilities, including the New Day Resiliency Center. 

Prior to working at SOG International, Villarreal worked as a staffer to state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a conservative Brownsville Democrat whose connections with the private prison industry are well-documented. 

The Signal reached out to Villarreal’s campaign via email for comment, but did not hear back. 

Villarreal has raised $61,650 in his bid for political office, a third of it from a $20,000 contribution from Practical Developments LLC, a company with ties to SOG International-related businessman Joaquin Spamer who owns the former building where the New Day Resiliency Center was built.  

In an email to the Signal, Ruben Cortez, a member of the Texas State Board of Education who is also running for Texas House District 37, said, “As a father of four, I believe no one should ever profit from the misery of children. I’ve dedicated my life in public service to protecting our students, especially the most vulnerable — including immigrant children and those with special needs. Our community knows who has been there for our families and who shares our values.”

Earlier this month, Cortez penned a letter to the Texas Education Agency raising concerns about charter school applications submitted by Sunny Glen. “It is beyond outrageous that anyone involved with running a child prison camp would think they are qualified to run a school,” he wrote.

Texas AFT, a statewide union that opposes charter schools, told the Signal they agreed with Cortez that Sunny Glen has no business running a school.

“Anyone associated with SOG International, Sunny Glen, and the troubling work of building and running a child prison camp should be disqualified from running for office,” a spokesman said. “Educators put the safety of kids first.”

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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