New permit required for proposed detention center for migrant children

For now, a proposed facility for immigrant children at 419 Emancipation Avenue in Houston is a no-go, according to city officials.

Chief Sam Peña with the Houston Fire Department says the current certificate of occupancy for the building does not match its intended use. The facility is licensed to operate as a residential center. It is leased to the non-profit organization Southwest Key.

“Right now what they’re describing does not meet the definition of a shelter. It most closely define an institution type of building use,” said Peña. 

In a letter to city officials, Southwest Key indicated the center would house unaccompanied minors ages 0 through 17. Peña says housing these children requires a different type of building permit.

“They’re going to house from I understand over 200 children that are unaccompanied. They’re going to be in a supervised environment. They are essentially not free to roam the city without accompaniment of the state in this case,” he added.

He says Southwest Key would have to start a new application process to get the proper permit.

From there, the fire department would be able to the necessary safety inspections based on the building’s new intended use.

“To date we have not received an additional application,” said Carol Haddock, Director of Houston Public Work. The department oversees all permits for buildings in the city.

In response, Jeff Eller, a spokesman with Southwest Key simply stated: 

“We are reviewing the comments by city officials and continue to talk with the state about licensing.”

Despite the setback, Southwest Key moved forward  with a hiring event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel off Katy Freeway.

Elizabeth Barrón says she applied for a job, but wasn’t told when she would start if she was hired. She says her passion is to help children. 

“I really want to be there for them to support and protect them,” she told FOX 26.

Members of the group Free Los Ninos (The Children) Coalition were also there to pass out fliers and protest.

“I can understand people wanting to help these kids, but I think Southwest Key really is not the way to do it,” said Gloria Rubac with the group.

The Southwest Key facility would also have be licensed with the State. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission says Southwest Key’s application is pending and they are evaluating the facility’s compliance with state licensing standards.