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Border & Immigration Update: Texas Officials Concerned About Migrant Children In Federal Facilities

Immigration-Border Crossings Migrant Children
Julio Cortez
Associated Press
In this March 19, 2021, file photo, migrants are seen in custody at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing area under the Anzalduas International Bridge, in Mission, Texas. U.S. authorities say they picked up nearly 19,000 children traveling alone across the Mexican border in March. It's the largest monthly number ever recorded and a major test for President Joe Biden as he reverses many of his predecessor's hardline immigration tactics.

Here’s a rundown of immigration and other news from the Texas border and beyond. Look out for a weekly recap from reporters at Texas’ public radio stations.

Migrant Children’s Safety

Gov. Greg Abbott is calling for the Biden administration to shut down an emergency facility for migrant teens at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio due to safety complaints received by the state.

He announced a state investigation into anonymous tips on Wednesday and sent a letter to Vice President and Border Czar Kamala Harris on Friday, as Texas Public Radio reports. The letter details concerns that “sexual behavior in the showers” and gay teens face bullying.

Bexar County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores said she has witnessed safe and sanitary conditions at the facility both as an official and volunteer. Here’s what she told Texas Public Radio following a tour with the governor.

The temporary intake site at the Freeman Coliseum is just one of around a dozen emergency facilities opened or announced by the Biden administration to take in a growing number of minors crossing the border, 10 of which are in Texas.

Gov. Abbott previously raised concerns about drinking water at a site in Midland. As Marfa Public Radio reports, officials there said conditions have improved but they continue to criticize the Biden administration. The Midland District Attorney also announced an investigation into the site this week over unspecified concerns that minors “were subject to abuse and neglect.”

Sheltering Migrant Children

Migrant children are facing long waits in federal facilities as they seek to be reunited with parents or a sponsor, but it’s not a new problem.

A new children’s book highlights the experiences of children detained under the Trump administration. But immigration experts say the Biden administration faces challenges caring for migrant children as intake outpaces releases from migrant facilities. Hear more on this week’s Fronteras, TPR’s weekly show about the border and South Texas.

What happens to migrant children after they leave federal custody? In past years, Houston has been a top destination for children reconnecting with family and navigating life in a new country, school and language. Houston Public Media spoke to five kids from Central America about their journeys and hopes for life in the U.S.

Concerns & Opportunity At The Border

The head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Alejandro Mayorkas, traveled to the Texas border on Thursday. During his third trip to the border, Mayorkas met with DHS employees in McAllen and advocates and local law enforcement in El Paso. Immigrant advocates told KERA News they discussed concerns about migrant families and single adults who are still not being allowed through the border under a Trump-instituted pandemic policy.

Some Central Americans, known as “transmigrantes,” make a living towing used trucks and secondhand goods from the U.S. to their countries. In late March, the Mexican government began directing transmigrantes through the Presidio border port of entry. Marfa Public Radio reports some residents of the rural West Texas town now see opportunity for economic growth from the new traffic.

Also on the West Texas border, a wildfire has swept the Big Bend National Park. Park officials said that by Friday afternoon the fire had spread across 250 acres of the Chisos Mountains by Friday afternoon. The fire on the popular South Rim area of the mountains has forced all hiking and backcountry camping sites to close through Sunday as crews respond to the fire. Follow Marfa Public Radio’s reporting for updates.

María Méndez reports for Texas Public Radio from the border city of Laredo where she covers business issues from an area that is now the nation’s top trade hub. She knows Texas well. Méndez has reported on the state’s diverse communities and tumultuous politics through internships at the Austin American-Statesman, The Texas Tribune and The Dallas Morning News. She also participated in NPR’s Next Generation Radio program while studying at the University of Texas at Austin. At UT, she wrote for The Daily Texan and helped launch diversity initiatives, including two collaborative series on undocumented and first-generation college students. One of her stories for these series won an award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She spent the last year reporting for The Dallas Morning News as a summer breaking news intern and then as a fellow in the paper’s capital bureau in Austin. She is a native of Guanajuato in Central Mexico.