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."
"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
Attorneys general from 19 states and the District of Columbia, led by California and Massachusetts, filed suit Monday to block Trump administration efforts to alter a 1997 federal consent decree called the Flores settlement that lays out ground rules for how the federal government detains migrant children. The new rules, announced on Friday, would lift court oversight and allow children to be held indefinitely; under Flores, minors can be detained for no longer than 20 days and in the least restrictive setting.
The 20 attorneys general, all Democrats, argue in their lawsuit that the Trump rules violate the spirit of the Flores settlement, that their states would bear the cost of the trauma and irreparable damage inflicted on the tens of thousands of minors detained for long periods of times, and that the rule undermines state licensing programs for child care facilities. State officials also made the moral case that locking up children is wrong and pointless. U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee must sign off on the Trump administration's rules, set to take effect in 60 days.
The Trump administration said that under its rules, the child and family detention facilities will be audited and the audits made public, but the Flores lawyers would no longer have access to the children and the facilities where they are held, sometimes in deplorable conditions. It is thanks to these Flores monitors that we get jolted into remembering that the U.S. is locking up children, Barbara Bradley Hagerty notes at The Atlantic, and learn they "don't have soap. They are freezing. The food is rotten." If Trump's long-sought rules go into effect, she adds, "the long-term detention of migrant children would carry on out of view from advocates, the American public at large, and the entire world."
The plaintiffs' lawyers overseeing the agreement have also said they will also challenge the rules. Peter Weber