Report: HHS Investigating Sex Assault, Abuse Claims at Immigrant Facility (Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images)
By Solange Reyner | Thursday, 08 April 2021 05:15 PM
The Biden administration is investigating allegations of abuse and sexual assault at a San Antonio facility housing immigrant minors, a White House spokesperson told CNN on Thursday.
The report comes a day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called on the federal government to close the shelter at the Freeman Coliseum, where 1,700 teenage boys who recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without a parent or guardian are waiting.
"The Biden administration takes the safety and well-being of children in its care very seriously," said the spokesperson. "Currently we see no basis for Gov. Abbott's call to shut down the San Antonio Freeman Coliseum as an intake site, however, his claims will be looked into and investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services."
Abbott told reporters on Wednesday that complaints about sexual assault were reported earlier that day to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as well as the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
''This facility is a health and safety nightmare,'' Abbott said. ''The Biden administration is now presiding over the abuse of children. To end this abuse, the Biden administration must immediately shut down this facility.''
The number of undocumented immigrants apprehended after crossing into the U.S. at the southern border skyrocketed in March to more than 171,000, the highest levels in at least 15 years, according to preliminary data.
Last month, Customs and Border Protection took in more than 18,800 unaccompanied minors, a 99% rise from February and a figure significantly higher than the previous one-month high of 11,861 set in May 2019.
The undocumented immigrants at the San Antonio facility are waiting to be placed with sponsors or family members ahead of scheduled asylum hearings.
HHS opened the emergency intake site last month due to the surge in border crossings, which the Biden administration has been scrambling to keep up with.
"We have made significant progress," one senior Biden administration, who requested anonymity, said during a call with reporters on Wednesday, according to CBS News.
The official, however, cautioned that "nobody should have the expectation this is going to be solved overnight," blaming the Trump administration for the "hole" it created with its asylum restrictions and reluctance to expand shelter bed space for minors.
Nine new shelters have opened since Biden took office, including at convention centers in San Diego and Dallas, a coliseum and expo center in San Antonio, a former oil camp in Midland, Texas, and at Fort Bliss, Texas.
In Donna, Texas, children are sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder in the overcrowded facility, which is now housing more than 4,000 undocumented immigrants.
''The conditions are antithetical to the well-being of children, particularly vulnerable minors,'' Dr. Amy Cohen, a psychiatrist who works with migrant children and families, told The New York Times.