Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) sent a letter last week to Vice President Kamala Harris, demanding the Biden Administration close the Health and Human Services Emergency Intake Site (EIS) for unaccompanied migrant children located at the Freeman Expo Center in San Antonio. In new developments, law enforcement sources say authorities are now looking at conditions at another facility in the Rio Grande Valley.
A law enforcement source within CBP, speaking on a condition of anonymity, says Texas Rangers visited the Donna facility in recent days to investigate conditions. Rangers conduct major violent crime, public corruption, cold case, and officer-involved shooting investigations. They also oversee the Texas Department of Public Safety’s border security and crisis negotiation programs.
The source reports that Texas Rangers visited the facility but did not gain full access. Department of Homeland Security Investigators (HIS) have moved in to take the lead in the investigation into conditions. HSI maintains they have jurisdiction over the facilities, according to the source.
The original letter from Governor Abbott cites allegations of sexual assault, bullying, under-staffing, and a disregard for COVID-19 protocols. The letter also alleges unaccompanied children with COVID-19 are not isolated. The conditions under scrutiny at Donna have not been made public.
Governor Abbot’s statement on the conditions at the HHS facilities paint a grim picture.
The State of Texas previously warned about overcrowded conditions at these facilities, and now those conditions have led to allegations of child abuse and neglect … Our repeated warnings and questions have gone ignored by President Biden, yourself, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas. In your role as Border Czar, you have a duty to these children and the American people to act immediately. I implore you to act immediately to protect these children, secure the border, and end this crisis.
In a statement released after the letter’s publication, HHS responded and addressed the protocol for handling allegations of this nature.
HHS takes its humanitarian mission seriously and while unaccompanied migrant children are in our care under the law, we strive to provide a safe space while they go through immigration proceedings. 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.
The number of unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody has steadily risen over the last several months and shows no signs of waning. There are more than 20,000 unaccompanied children being held by HHS and CBP across the country. The number has risen nearly 1% per day over the last two weeks, according to HHS data.
According to a law enforcement source within CBP, nearly 19,000 unaccompanied children were arrested in March, an all-time monthly record. HHS is scrambling to keep up with the record numbers by adding facilities and increasing bed capacity at an unprecedented pace.
Randy Clark is a 32-year veteran of the United States Border Patrol. Prior to his retirement, he served as the Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations, directing operations for nine Border Patrol Stations within the Del Rio, Texas, Sector. Follow him on Twitter @RandyClarkBBTX.