Houston mayor doesn’t want to ‘enable’ Trump policy by housing immigrant children

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Tuesday voiced opposition to a plan to house migrant children separated from their families at the border in a private facility in his city, saying he doesn’t want to be an “enabler” of the Trump administration practice.

Turner said city officials first heard last week from immigration activists that the owner of a former warehouse and homeless shelter on the edge of downtown signed a long-term lease with Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit that runs about 26 immigrant children’s shelters across Texas, Arizona and California.

BOSTON, MA – JUNE 08: Sylvester Turner, mayor of Houston during a session on how communities can use technology to grow and thrive at the U.S. Conference Of Mayors on June 8, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Citing what he described as a moral duty to no longer be silent about the practice of separating families, Turner called on the state, which has to license the facility, the property owner and Southwest Key Programs not to move forward with the plan to house migrant children up to 17 years old in the facility.

“I do not want the city to participate in this process. I do not want our facilities and property owners to participate in this process,” Turner said, joined by city, state and religious officials.

A representative for Southwest Key Programs could not be reached on Tuesday.

Turner said the city had leased the property to house people displaced from Hurricane Harvey. City officials were negotiating with the owner to lease the property again for a homeless shelter that would provide free meals and behavioral and mental health services.

The property is in a part of Houston that includes a mix of warehouses, apartments and the BBVA Compass Stadium, where the Houston Dash, a National Women’s Soccer League club, plays.

The fire department still has to inspect the facility and the health department has to provide a food permit, the mayor said.

The property’s owner could not be reached on Tuesday.

In an effort to crack down on illegal immigration, the administration of President Donald Trump recently decided to criminally prosecute anyone who crosses the border illegally instead of referring those with children to immigration courts, like previous administrations had largely done. While they face prosecution, parents are now held in federal prisons, where their children can’t be held with them. So, the “zero-tolerance” policy has the immediate effect of separating parents from their children.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers, celebrities and religious leaders have joined the chorus of people who have criticized the separations of children from their families. Federal authorities have separated at least 2,000 children from their parents at the border, officials said.

‘Good people can no longer be quiet’

“The new practice of separating immigrant children from their parents and guardians at the border violates decency and is not representative of our American values,” Turner said.

Turner said he confirmed the plans with Southwest Key Programs on Tuesday and the company said it would “provide compassionate care” to the children. The mayor said he doesn’t question the company’s intent but he made it clear to them he didn’t support the plan.

He said he told the company he didn’t want to be an “enabler in the process” of separating children from their parents.

The mayor said the company does “good work.”

“But I would say to Southwest Key, ‘You cannot combine the good with facilitating the policy that’s bad and come out like a rose,’ ” Turner said.

Turner said he has done his best to stay clear of national issues and focus on the city to “avoid the politics of ruffling people’s feathers.”

But the mayor said this issue “is different because this involves our children.”

“We have to be very careful that we don’t sanitize ourselves and convince ourselves that if we don’t do this, these children’s lives will be far worse,” he said. “The question then becomes: ‘If we don’t speak up … then these types of policies will continue’ — and good people can no longer be quiet in our society.”

He added: “People who don’t want to cause any problems or ruffle any feathers, the good people now have to say, ‘You’ve gone too far.’ “