During Uncertainty About Treatment of Migrant Infants and Children, Mayor Calls for Abandonment of Plan to House Them in Houston

With federal immigration policies and practices in limbo, Mayor Sylvester Turner today called on Southwest Key and its landlord to abandon plans to use a former homeless shelter near downtown Houston to house migrant children detained at the U.S. border.

President Trump on Wednesday ended the federal government’s practice of separating children from their immigrant parents at the border with Mexico. But federal officials said there were no immediate plans for family re-unification for the more than 2,200 children who already had been seized under the controversial practice that Mayor Turner calls immoral and un-American.

Many of those children are housed by the Austin-based non-profit organization Southwest Key.

“It’s hard for the city to grant approval when we don’t know who’s going to be there,” the mayor said of the facility at 419 Emancipation Street. “The plan to proceed in housing children under this policy that was screwed up from the beginning is not going to go down well. You are not going to remove the stain.”

Southwest Key president and founder Juan Sanchez and two other organization executives refused to answer when the mayor asked them during a meeting Tuesday whether they disagreed with the practice of federal agents separating families.

“So when you start wrong, it’s very difficult to get it right,” Mayor Turner said of the non-profit’s approach.

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement gives the same classification of “unaccompanied minors” to children separated from their families and children who cross the border without adults, ORR officials said at the Tuesday meeting. Turner said that means there could be no way for Southwest Key to prevent itself from housing children seized from adult relatives by federal agents.

A written statement from Southwest Key today mentioned that smaller Houston-area organizations house migrant children without their parents.

“To say that others are doing it and therefore this should be OK doesn’t satisfy me,” the mayor responded.

If Southwest Key and property owner David Denenburg proceed with their plans, city departments will conduct meticulous permitting inspections of the unused building “once we know who is going to be there” to see if the building can be used to house children, the mayor explained.

“I’m not going to guess and assume, when the positions and the policies and the occupancy categories are constantly changing,” Mayor Turner remarked.