April 17, 2021

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday evening that state child welfare officials have received three reports of neglect and abuse at a San Antonio coliseum being used by the federal government to house more than 1,300 migrant teens who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. “This facility should shut down immediately,” Abbott said at a hastily arranged news conference outside San Antonio’s Freeman Expo Center. “The children should be moved to better staffed and better secured locations.”

Abbott said he did not have many details about the alleged abuse, reported early Wednesday, but he believes the reports came from somebody who had been inside the facility. One of the allegations included sexual abuse, he said, and he also heard reports of children not eating and not being separated after testing positive for COVID-19. Abbott, a frequent critic of President Biden’s border policies, acknowledged he had not yet been inside the coliseum.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is overseeing the temporary migrant facility, said it can’t comment on any specific cases but “has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and inappropriate sexual behavior.”

Bexar County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (D), who has been inside the facility as both an elected official and volunteer, disputed Abbott’s characterization. “What I saw when I went in there on several occasions, it was well-staffed, the children are very happy and very excited to be here,” she said after Abbott left. “This is not a political issue. This is about children who deserve protection from adults.” She and Abbott toured the facility after he spoke to reporters, Clay-Flores said, and “I wish the governor had done his tour before the press conference when he politicized children.”

The Biden administration has opened at least eight temporary facilities in Texas to house the unusually large number of unaccompanied minors arriving in the seasonal flow of migrants to the border. “To staff its emergency sites, HHS waived regulations that normally apply to its permanent facilities, including bypassing FBI fingerprint background checks for all caregivers,” The Associated Press reports. “There is no information to suggest any staff member is accused of assaulting a child.”

“Vulnerable children are often victims of sexual assault,” The Texas Tribune reports. “In Texas, children kept in foster care and state-run juvenile lockups often report sexual assault, as well, without the governor’s immediate intervention.” Peter Weber

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