Two days after criticizing the Biden administration's immigration policies, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) addressed the stress thousands of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum are putting on facilities at the Texas-Mexico border on Wednesday afternoon while questioning what was being done on the federal level to prevent the human trafficking of children into the United States.
Abbott spoke across the street from Dallas' Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center early Wednesday noon, the facility is now one of three federal facilities in the state that will be used to temporarily house children -- the Dallas site may host up to 3,000 immigrant teenagers while facilities in Midland and Carrizo Springs will host hundreds more.
"These sites are a direct result of President Biden's reckless open border policies that are causing a surge in border crossings and cartel activity," Abbott said Wednesday, adding that 11,000 minors have been apprehended crossing the Texas-Mexico border this year alone and that border crossings are at its highest level in two years.
U.S. authorities encountered children traveling alone 9,457 times in February, nearly double the number in January and the highest since May 2019, when the figure neared 12,000 during the peak of a surge during the era of former President Donald Trump.
"The Biden Administration is completely not prepared for the number of children coming across this border," Abbott said, adding that the administration has yet to provide answers that Texans deserve.
Specifically, the governor is looking for answers to questions about the health of the children, mainly if they've been tested for COVID-19 and known variants and what will be done if the children are ill or become ill, as well as answers into who is helping them reach the border and cross to the other side.
To that end, Abbott said he planned to ask the federal government to grant state troopers access to the three federal facilities in Texas where minors are being held so that they can be interviewed as part of the state's ongoing investigation into illegal border crossings and the possible involvement of Mexican drug cartels in moving people across the Rio Grande River.
"All of this is vital information that can help America combat traffickers and prevent other kids from being victimized," Abbott said.
The governor also said the Biden administration "must also answer for enticing unaccompanied minors into inhumane conditions that expose these children to traffickers, to abuse and to terror.
Rene Martinez, a Dallas leader of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said Abbott's remarks amount to fear mongering.
Martinez said immigration is the responsibility of the federal government. He called the request to have state investigators question the teens ridiculous.
"They have no role in dealing with immigration issues. The point is, he’s making this a political grandstand on his part. And he’s attacking the president. That’s all he’s doing," Martinez said. "They’re going to do due diligence on the kids, they’re going to screen them. They’re going to ask those questions.'
Governor Abbott admitted that the arrival of migrant minors actually began well before the Biden administration with a court order against turning away minors seeking asylum that came down near the end of the Trump administration.
"But that does not address the Biden administration's failure to fully address the children who are coming in," Abbott said.
The head of the Department of Homeland Security pushed back against Republican criticism of the Biden administration's border policies, refusing to say that the surge of migrant children entering the United States is a "crisis."
According to four current and two former Customs and Border Protection officials, the Biden administration is restricting the information Border Patrol agents and sector chiefs can share with the media regarding the surge of migrants along the southern border, NBC News reports. The officials say the restrictions are seen as an unofficial "gag order" and are often referred to that way among colleagues. The Biden administration finds itself in a difficult position when it comes to messaging about immigration. On one hand, it wants to show voters it has a more humane approach than the previous administration, while on the other hand, it doesn't want to encourage more undocumented migrants to cross the border.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday the Dallas convention center location could begin to serve as an Emergency Intake Site for unaccompanied migrant children Thursday and that all children sent to the site will be screened for COVID-19.
The HHS said Tuesday that the Texas sites would provide the Office of Refugee Resettlement additional capacity where they can safely process and care for the thousands of children crossing the southern border of the United States.
The HHS said the children will eventually be, "either released to a sponsor or transferred to an appropriate ORR shelter for longer-term care.
Back on the border, Abbott said Wednesday he was expanding Operation Lone Star to crack down on human trafficking. The operation already has 1,000 DPS troopers, agents and rangers working on the border to curb crossings and smuggling operations.
"The thought of any child suffering at the hands of human traffickers is completely unacceptable," Abbott said.
Dallas County Judge Calls for Compassion for Traumatized Teens
Of the Dallas site, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued a statement Wednesday ahead of the governor's remarks saying, "The federal government has leased space for a federal turnkey humanitarian operation" and that there is no local cost to taxpayers.
He urged continued compassion, reminding North Texans that these are children in need of help.
"The children are unaccompanied minors, ages 15-17, who were being kept in small holding cells at the border not designed to incarcerate people for more than a few hours," Jenkins said. "The transfer to a temporary facility at the convention center will provide opportunities for exercise and socialization for children who have already faced incredible trauma. These children are made in the image of God, very similar to my 15-year-old daughter and your relatives of that age."
Jenkins' entire statement can be read below.