Another facility intended for detaining undocumented children is reportedly in the works for Houston as the number of children separated from their parents at the border continues to swell.
Southwest Key Programs, the same contractor that operates the facility in South Texas where hundreds of undocumented children are being confined, plans to operate a new facility for children at a vacant warehouse in Houston’s East Downtown. The building’s owner, 419 Hope Partners LLC, confirmed to The Washington Post Monday that Southwest Key recently signed a lease for the warehouse.
The warehouse, at 419 Emancipation Ave., was previously used as a homeless shelter for women and children and most recently, from September 2017 to March 2018, as a shelter for Hurricane Harvey refugees. They slept in bunk beds in units designed for family living.
“The property features individual living quarters each with a full bathroom, a commercial kitchen, an outdoor playground, a child care area, and other amenities,” Hope Partners said in a statement.
Southwest Key did not respond to requests for comment late Monday night seeking details, but it previously confirmed to the Houston Chronicle, which broke the news, that it planned to use the warehouse for housing immigrant children.
“Over the years, we have housed many children under the age of 4 who were sent by [the federal government] to stay in our shelters without a parent, family member or guardian,” Southwest Key spokeswoman Cindy Casares told the Chronicle in a statement. “While they stayed with us, we did the same thing we do for every child in our care. We worked to reunify them with family or sponsor as quickly as is safely possible.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and other state and local officials have strongly opposed the plans for the new facility.
Turner, who will have a news conference about the “proposed child immigration detention center” Tuesday afternoon, told local ABC affiliate KTRK, “I don’t want in the city of Houston for us to participate in a policy that I think is morally bankrupt. This is not about party, not about Democrat or Republican, nothing about that. It’s about valuing children.”
The mayor’s spokesman, Alan Bernstein, told The Post that city permitting is still underway for Southwest Key at the warehouse and that it still must be licensed by the state as a childcare facility before it can open.
About 2,000 children have been separated from their parents since the Trump administration announced its “zero-tolerance” policy in April. Under the policy, children are taken from their parents while the parents are jailed and prosecuted for illegal entry, a misdemeanor, and then taken to immigrant detention facilities to await deportation proceedings. Approximately 1,500 children are being held at the facility in Brownsville, Texas, an abandoned Walmart refitted with large metal cages in which dozens of children lie on mats using large foil sheets as blankets.
The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement oversees dozens of shelters nationwide, some of which are operated by Southwest Key Programs. But as the administration continues to separate families at the border, capacity has become an issue, creating the need for more shelters.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that it is opening a temporary shelter in Tornillo, Texas, that is akin to a “tent city” because of the makeshift structures in which the government plans to keep the children. It has also seeking to house children on military bases.
As images and audio of children crying for their parents has come out of the facilities, officials, lawmakers and political commentators on both sides of the aisle have broadly decried the administration’s “zero tolerance” approach.
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