Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) leveled new accusations Monday against the Biden administration's arrangements for migrant minors, as a volunteer with experience in migrant detention spoke in support of the effort underway in Dallas.
About 5,000 minors are in federal detention at several locations as relatives or sponsors seek to take custody of them while their immigration cases are pending.
At a business roundtable Monday in North Richland Hills, Abbott renewed his criticism of the Biden administration's response to the surge in minors seeking asylum at the Texas border.
“Every single day that passes we learn more failures by the Biden Administration with regard to all of these federal facilities they are using to house the minors,” Abbott said.
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The Midland location received most of Abbott’s attention Tuesday. The governor said that the location has well water quality issues and no security fence. The federal government has stopped taking more minors there.
Abbott said COVID-19 transmission is a concern at all of the locations. He said state investigators should be permitted to interview the children detained by the federal government to help combat possible sex trafficking.
“We’ve got to get those traffickers off the street and behind bars,” Abbott said.
So far the federal government has declined Abbott’s request, saying the children are already being interviewed by federal authorities who will share any evidence with criminal investigators.
The largest exhibit hall at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Dallas Convention Center has been leased to the federal government for 75 days of temporary use to hold up to 3,000 minors. The Red Cross and Catholic Charities have been contracted to help.
Immigration attorney Michelle Saenz Rodriguez is a volunteer through Catholic Charities at the Dallas location and has a different view than the governor of the effort underway to serve the children she has met.
“They are very, very gracious and just so happy to be there. We talk a lot about their stories getting there, and the stories that we hear are incredible,” she said.
Over the weekend Saenz-Rodriguez said a line of buses brought around 1,000 more minors. She said cots and food were provided for all of them.
“It is a huge operation. I have never seen so many cots in my life and the way they were lined up. And everybody is working furiously," she said. "Everybody is doing what they can. All the volunteer organizations are working together. All the government agencies are communicating and trying to get this thing set up."
In her work as an immigration attorney, Saenz-Rodriguez said she has seen other detention facilities along the border where children have been caged. She said the temporary convention center setup is nothing like that.
“This is a completely different setting, which, as an advocate, that makes me feel much better, that they’re doing everything they can to make these kids feel welcome and safe and get reunited as quickly as they can with their family,” she said. “For me, as a mother, as a lawyer, it’s quite heartwarming, because at the end of the day we are dealing with children. And we are dealing with children who have come by themselves seeking protection.”
Saenz-Rodriguez said every adult entering the facility has undergone an extensive background check and COVID-19 precautions are being used.
“There's a lot of masks, social distancing, they're always being reminded they have to be separate, as are we, as the volunteers,” she said.
There is currently no open solicitation for volunteers or donations at the Dallas location. Access to the children is severely restricted and they are not free to come and go.
For people unable to see it for themselves, Saenz-Rodriguez said she wanted people to hear that good things are happening at the Dallas location and she is proud to be part of it.