Migrant housing facility hoping to open downtown says it won't hold kids under 16

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Southwest Key, the non-profit corporation that wanted to house immigrant children ages 0 - 17 in a downtown Houston facility, has changed its proposal to no longer include children under the age of 16.

By only housing children who are 16 and 17 years old at its facility on 419 Emancipation, Southwest Key can operate with a "residential" certificate of occupancy, the city of Houston says.

But it will be required to make repairs cited by city inspectors.

The city said that in January inspectors found locks on sleeping room windows that can be used for emergency escapes and rescues.

If Southwest Key wants to avoid permit violations, it has to make a number of changes including removing the locks, replacing missing fire-suppression sprinkler heads and making minor electrical and plumbing repairs.

Once that happens, the City Building Official will issue a new Certificate of Occupancy.

RELATED: City raising red flags about all Southwest Key facilities in city

Southwest Key says its facility, called Casa Sunzal, will house residents "who will be capable of self-preservation without physical assistance."
Southwest Key regional director Marisela Saldana said in a November declaration that the 16 - and 17-year-olds will be sheltered "until either a suitable relative or other adult assumes responsibility for them or they are deported as a result of immigration proceedings."

Last September, the nonprofit sued Houston, alleging that the city was trying to stop it from opening its facility.

A revision to the city permit could help clear the way for the facility to open.

"I opposed the original Southwest Key plan because it sought to house children ages 0 to 17 who had been separated from their parents," Mayor Sylvester Turner said. "The initial application for a certificate of occupancy did not satisfy the city's regulatory requirements and was inconsistent with our values of keeping families together. My objection was and always will be about the children."

Southwest Key released the following statement to ABC13:

"Casa Sunzal will provide more than 200 immigrant youth access to medical care, counseling and educational services while the reunification process happens. The vast majority of youth in our care are fleeing extreme poverty and violence in Central America, leaving their homes and families behind to seek safety and a more secure future.

We have addressed all outstanding inspection issues and repairs raised by city inspectors. Our case workers, clinicians, teachers and program staff are eagerly awaiting the issuance of our Certificate of Occupancy so we can begin counseling and supporting these children."

READ MORE: Southwest Key sues Houston for 'illegally' stopping the organization from opening an immigrant child facility
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