Texas investigating abuse allegations at migrant facility

AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) — Texas child welfare officials said on Wednesday they received three reports alleging abuse and neglect at a San Antonio coliseum that is holding more than 1,600 immigrant teenagers who crossed the southern border.

It is the first time state officials announced they are investigating such allegations at one of the emergency facilities the United States (US) government has quickly set up in Texas amid a sharp increase in crossings of unaccompanied youths.

A county official who also volunteers at the San Antonio site, the Freeman Coliseum, said the nature of the allegations do not align with what she has seen in multiple visits to the facility.

Child welfare officials would not reveal details about who made the allegations, but Republican Governor Greg Abbott said his understanding was that they came from someone who had been inside the facility. One of the allegations include sexual abuse, but no further details were provided.

Other allegations include insufficient staffing, children not eating and those who tested positive for COVID-19 not being separated, Abbott said at a news conference that he quickly arranged outside the facility on Wednesday evening. For weeks, Abbott has joined Republicans in criticising the Biden administration for the handling of the migration challenge at the US southern border.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference about migrant children detentions, in Dallas. PHOTO: AP

“This facility should shut down immediately. The children should be moved to better staffed and better secured locations,” Abbott said.

Bexar County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores, who has been inside the facility as both an elected official and volunteer, said the teenagers are offered three meals and two snacks a day and anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is put in a separate area far from other children.

She toured the facility with Abbott after his press conference and said he asked staff questions that included COVID-19 testing protocols.

“I wish the governor had done his tour before the press conference when he politicised children,” said Clay-Flores, an elected Democrat. The US Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that it could not comment on specific cases but “has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and inappropriate sexual behaviour”.