HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner held a press conference Tuesday, calling on the State of Texas to decline a licensing permit for a proposed child residential facility on Emancipation Avenue that he believes will be used to house immigrant children who have been separated from their families.
Mayor Turner said he also met with leaders of Southwest Key Programs Tuesday. He said they told him they have leased the property on Emancipation, and if they can get a license, they plan to house children who’ve been separated from their parents or their relatives.
“They did say that they will provide compassionate care to the children separated from their families,” said Mayor Turner. “And let me just say: I do not question their intent. I do not question that. But I also made it clear to Southwest Key that I do not support this facility being used for this purpose.”
Southwest Key is the same nonprofit providing housing to unaccompanied minors at its Brownsville location near the border with Mexico.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission tells FOX 26 that Southwest Key applied for a license late last week at the location on Emancipation Avenue.
Mayor Turner said Tuesday that the city had previously been looking to turn that location into a homeless shelter, and he wasn’t aware of the new tenant.
“Quite frankly it was kept as a secret,” said Turner. “I found out about it when immigration activists heard about it and passed the word to my staff.”
Mayor Turner said if Southwest Key is facilitating children being separated from their parents at the Mexican border, he won’t support them opening a location in his city.
“There comes a time when Americans, when Houstonians, when Texans have to say to those higher than ourselves this is wrong,” Mayor Turner said.
Texas State Senator Sylvia Garcia also spoke at the mayor’s press conference, taking a stance against Southwest Key.
“So we stand here in opposition to this proposed baby jail near downtown,” said Garcia.
Turns out Southwest Key has had another facility licensed in Houston on Mesa Drive since 1991, according to the Department of Family and Protective Services. Despite a full parking lot and lots of activity there Tuesday, DFPS officials say that location is temporarily closed.
Neither HHS nor DFPS would confirm whether the Mesa Drive location or the new location on Emancipation Avenue is meant to house immigrant children only. Southwest Key has not responded to calls or emails from FOX 26.
HHS said the specific license that Southwest Key has applied for at Emancipation Avenue is a General Residential Operation license. They say the process of approving that application is a several-weeks-long process.