AUSTIN (KXAN) — In his latest effort to shut down a San Antonio facility the federal government is using to house unaccompanied migrant children, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to Vice President Kamala Harris saying the state of Texas’ “warnings and questions have gone ignored.” He also included a memo detailing some of the complaints surrounding the facility.
“In your role as Border Czar, you have a duty to these children and the American people to act immediately,” Abbott wrote.
Harris was tasked with overseeing the Biden Administration’s immigration response March 24, specifically heading up the diplomatic effort to reach out to Mexico and Central American leaders to discuss root issues. She has yet to visit the border, but many other lawmakers have made their way to South Texas to survey the situation for themselves, including a group on Friday led by House Republican Whip Steve Scalise. Harris did say in March that both she and President Joe Biden would “absolutely” visit in person. The White House didn’t have an update Friday on when Harris could visit.
Biden said in a press conference this week, “I’m ready to work with any Republican who wants to help solve the problem. Or make the situation better.”
The White House on Friday pointed to a statement it released in response to a press conference Gov. Greg Abbott held at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio on Wednesday, affirming that the administration “takes the safety and well-being of children in its care very seriously.”
“Currently we see no basis for Governor Abbott’s call to shut down the San Antonio Freeman Coliseum as an intake site, however his claims will be looked into and investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services,” the White House said.
On Wednesday, Abbott shared that two state agencies had each received tips related to child sex abuse and neglect at the San Antonio facility At that time, he said he instructed the Texas Rangers to look into the allegations. In his letter Friday, he expanded on those concerns.
“The complaints include allegations of sexual assault, a shortage of staff to properly supervise the children inside the facility, and that the children in the facility are not eating throughout the day,” the letter said. “The complaints also allege that children who have COVID-19 are exposed to other children.
Abbott included a memo from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission that detailed some of the complaints, including a lack of supervision during showers and alleged sexual behavior. Other issues shared included overnight staffing levels and a concern that “children who may be homosexual are being bullied.” The letter said the concerns have been referred to the federal office of Refugee Resettlement.
Abbott said in his Friday letter that he is again asking the Biden Administration to “close the facility and move these children to federally run facilities where the federal government has the space, personnel and resources to ensure their safety.”
The Administration for Children and families, which falls under the federal Health and Human Services Department, released a statement Friday saying it “takes its humanitarian mission seriously.”
“While unaccompanied migrant children are in our care under the law, we strive to provide a safe space while they go through immigration proceedings,” it wrote. “HHS has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and inappropriate sexual behavior at all UC care provider facilities. We will continue investigating any incidents affecting children’s health, well-being and safety and will take the proper measures including initiating employee disciplinary action, termination, and reporting to appropriate investigative entities, such as law enforcement agencies and relevant licensing bodies.”
Migrants in San Antonio
On March 11, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar told Border Report that migrants would be sent to the city of San Antonio. On March 29, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency opened the Emergency Intake Site for unaccompanied children at the Freeman Coliseum.
New numbers this week showed there were 18,890 unaccompanied migrant children apprehended in March, which is more than double those who came in February. They were 11% of arrests along the Southwest border but are the largest demographic group in custody at Customs and Border Protection facilities, according to Border Report.