Officials considering downtown Houston for immigrant children's shelter

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The former Star of Hope Women's and Children's facility is quickly being reconfigured into a facility to hold immigrant children raging from zero to 17-years-old.

The non-profit organization Southwest Keys confirmed that they have applied for a state license to operate the facility located at 419 Emancipation Avenue.

"It's troubling. Troubling that we are going to have kids separated from their parents without knowing where their parents are, right in the heart of Houston," said Cesar Espinoza, Executive Director of FIEL.

Espinoza has already organized one protest against the proposed facility, and is planning additional events.

If approved, up to 240 children could be housed in the facility. Officials say some of the children are unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border alone, while others were separated from their parents.

"We don't want this baby jail here. We don't want any baby jails," said State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is among several democratic lawmakers who have voiced opposition. "We should not have a reason for baby jails. So, this at the root of the problem, is the Trump policy of separating children from their families."

But not everyone sees the proposed center as an unwelcoming sight. The Harris County Republican Party pointed out that parents crossing the border illegally must be prosecuted, and during their prosecution, their children must go somewhere.

"They're being provided healthcare, education and medical attention. They're being provided an environment where they can be safe and be supervised to ensure they are properly cared for," Republican activist Vlad Davidiuk said.

State records show Southwest Key already operates 15 similar facilities across the state of Texas, five in the greater Houston area.

State officials did not give a timeline of when they will make a decision on the licensing application for the downtown Houston location.

Meanwhile, healthcare professionals are sounding the alarm on the mental health of children separated from their families.

"These kids, when they're taken from their parents, are at increased risk because of the traumatic psychological effect," said medical director for Legacy Community Health Dr. Ann Barnes. "They're at risk for lifelong mental health concerns, like depression anxiety, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

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