Houston's planned detention center for migrant children on hold over permits

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The opening of the controversial Southwest Key children's center depends on the current state of existing permits and the intended use of the facility.

The city did issue a permit of occupancy and, based on that, the facility owners say they are opening once they get final permits from the state. But the city is now saying the permit that covers this facility is not valid for the intended use of this facility.

The company wants the building on Emancipation Avenue to be used to house unaccompanied minors, but the permit they currently hold is that of a shelter.

According to City of Houston officials, those are two different occupancies and the current city permit for the building is not what is needed for it to operate as an immigrant detention facility -- which is an institution type of facility.

An institution type of facility would require different fire inspections because the building would partition to accommodate different sexes and ages of kids.

Also, the city's health department says no food service permits are on file and without the new inspections, the building will not open as Southwest Key has claimed.

According to the director of Houston Public Works Carol Haddocks, Southwest Key has not submitted an application, nor additional plan assets to change their current permit of occupancy.

RELATED: Southwest Key application accepted by state to operate children's detention facility in Houston

Since separated children must be reunited with their parents, the facility will hold unaccompanied minors who illegally cross the border.

Officials say up to 240 children could be housed at the center. State records show Southwest Key already operates 15 similar facilities across the state of Texas, five in the greater Houston area.

Dr. Juan Sanchez, CEO of Southwest Key, told ABC13 in June that the facility is not a detention center, but a state-licensed "childcare facility."

As of now, the city has a hold on all permits related to the facility, meaning no work can be done at all.

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