This article has been updated.
Two Texas agencies received tips about child abuse and neglect within the Freeman Coliseum where unaccompanied migrant youths are being housed, Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters Wednesday.
Abbott held a news conference in front of the Freeman Coliseum, where he said the complaints received by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) included allegations of sexual assault, inadequate staffing and nutrition, and shoddy coronavirus prevention measures. According to the complaints, migrant youths who tested positive for the coronavirus were not being separated from other children.
“The Biden administration is now presiding over the abuse of children,” Abbott said Wednesday. “To end this abuse, the Biden administration must immediately shut down this facility.”
The Bexar County-owned Freeman Coliseum has been housing unaccompanied migrant minors since March 30. The county agreed to allow the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to use the coliseum as an emergency shelter as the number of unaccompanied migrant children surrendering to U.S. custody reached record heights. Officials have said the youths at the Freeman Coliseum, which shelters boys aged 13 to 17, are from Central America. As of Wednesday, the coliseum was housing about 1,645 boys.
Abbott said he has directed the Texas Rangers and Department of Public Safety to “immediately” investigate the allegations at the coliseum.
Abbott said he was not aware of how many of the migrant minors were included in the complaints. He declined to share the identities of the people who submitted complaints and said he was not able to give more detail on how they found out about alleged neglect and abuse. He did say the tipsters had been inside the facility at some point.
DFPS also said Wednesday that it received allegations of abuse and neglect at the coliseum.
“The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) today received three separate reports alleging abuse and neglect occurring at the Freeman Coliseum, which is currently housing unaccompanied minors,” the agency said in a statement. “Because this facility is not licensed by the State, we do not have the jurisdiction to investigate, but the information we received has been shared with [the Department of Public Safety].”
Bexar County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (Pct. 1) attended Wednesday’s news conference and indirectly chastised Abbott for publicizing the accusations.
“As we well know, the culture in our society as of late has been very prevalent to report fake news,” she said. “I am here not only as an elected official of the county but also separately as a volunteer. … I can tell you about the conditions.”
Clay-Flores, who became a volunteer through Catholic Charities and has been leading Bible studies at the Freeman Coliseum, said the unaccompanied migrant boys are fed three meals and two snacks a day and that the facility is clean, with proper coronavirus prevention measures taken. Clay-Flores and members of her church also underwent background checks before volunteering, as required by Catholic Charities.
“As I said before, this is not a political issue, though some people in the great state of Texas have chosen to make this a political issue,” she said. “But … they don’t care anything about being a Republican or a Democrat. Frankly, they don’t care about who the president of this country is or who the governor is, or who the county commissioner is. … Children do not choose what country they are born into or if they are born to the north or south of the border.”
The migrant children arriving in the United States seek a better future, Clay-Flores said.
“This is about children who deserve protection from adults, and this has been turned into a Republican-versus-Democrat issue,” she said. “I’m not standing here as a Democrat, even though I am a proud Democrat. I’m standing here as an adult who cares about children.”
Abbott said if state law enforcement’s investigation confirms the allegations, the migrant youths need to be moved to different federal facilities.
“I think the investigation should and can begin tonight,” he said. “We may have answers as soon as tomorrow.”
Where the unaccompanied migrant youths would go is up to the Biden administration, Abbott said.
“They have other locations across the entire country,” he said. “Certainly they must have locations that have better staff, better safety measures, and situations where children will not be subject to abuse like this.”
According to Bexar County spokeswoman Monica Ramos, Abbott and Clay-Flores toured the facility together Wednesday evening following the news conference.
Clay-Flores said she was not aware of the details behind the allegations that the governor referenced, nor the process of investigating them. She said that “real accusations” of child abuse must be investigated.
“I do trust officials who care about the children who will do due diligence to find that,” she said.