DALLAS (KXAN) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the state’s border is unsecured, and he believes the recent surge in unaccompanied, asylum-seeking minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas will only grow if allowed.
And he’s laying the blame and the bulk of responsibility at the feet of the Biden administration.
The governor addressed residents Wednesday from a hotel across the street from the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, which is set to become a temporary FEMA shelter to house 3,000 unaccompanied boys between the ages of 15-17. The teenagers will stay there for up to 90 days.
U.S. Health and Human Services will open the center to take some of the strain off Border Patrol, which is not supposed to hold children for more than three days but has been forced to do so for much longer. At least 3,000 children had been in custody longer than that 72-hour limit.
The governor wasted little time laying into the Biden administration, which he blames for the surge and need for housing sites, which he says will only grow exponentially.
“These sites are a direct result of President Biden’s reckless open border policies that are causing a surge in crossings and cartel activity,” Abbott said. “The administration has yet to provide answers that Texans deserve.”
According to Abbott, Biden’s administration needs to provide information on where these migrants have come from and a timeline of how long they’ll be in Texas/the U.S.
The number of migrants being stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border has been rising since last April when Donald Trump was president. It’s at its highest point since March 2019, the governor said.
The Biden administration is still rapidly expelling most single adults and families under a public health order issued by former President Trump at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it is allowing teens and children to stay, at least temporarily, and they have been coming in ever larger numbers.
On Wednesday, Abbott claimed the Biden administration’s policies are not only allowing border traffic, but encouraging it.
“The Biden administration must also answer for enticing unaccompanied minors into inhumane conditions that expose these children to traffickers. To abuse. And to terror.”Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
The governor said that so far this year, 11,000 minors have been apprehended crossing the border into Texas, which he claims is a 60% increase between January (which was under the Trump administration) and February.
“On Monday alone, the Border Patrol took in about 280 child migrants in the Rio Grande Valley sector. America needs to know how these children — some are young children — are coming across the border and who is it that is helping these children across the border,” Abbott said.
Abbott said the Biden administration should be interviewing every unaccompanied minor who comes across the border to find out this information.
The governor said he’s expanding the scope of Operation Lonestar, which includes deploying 1,000 DPS officers and rangers to combat human trafficking. During the conference, Abbott directly asked the Biden administration for the opportunity to interview minors at the new facility.
Some Texan Democrats question the timing of the trip. On Wednesday, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro condemned Abbott for using children as “political props.”
COVID-19 and migrants
The governor said Texas needs to know which COVID-19 variants migrants may possibly have been exposed to.
“Are they being tested for COVID? And if so, how is the administration handling those who test positive?” Abbott asked. “Is the federal government following CDC quarantine protocols? If these children are sick, who will be taking care of them?”
Biden and Abbott have also been at odds over the Texas response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden called the decision to end the mask mandate in Texas “Neanderthal thinking.” Days after that, Abbott then spoke out criticizing the president’s immigration policy and its impact on the border.
A reporter asked the governor Wednesday if his concerns about the spread of COVID-19 from migrants are unfounded because he already lifted all restrictions in the state. Abbott said his decisions “were based on metrics,” pointing out the positivity rate dropped to 6% for the last two days in a row.
‘This is the Biden administration’s responsibility’
However, despite turning closer eyes to the border and employing stricter measures, Abbott said the onus is ultimately on the White House.
“Texas is willing to step up and help out,” Abbott said. “But this is the Biden administration’s responsibility… the Biden administration has made it clear that if you are an unaccompanied child, you will be allowed to come into the United States.”
A White House official recommended a request for comment be sent to the Department of Homeland Security or Health and Human Services. An HHS official stated the agency was working to respond to the information request. DHS did not immediately respond.
DHS Secretary Alexander Mayorkas testified before the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday. During that hearing, he address the nation’s immigration system.
“A crisis is when a nation is willing to rip a 9-year-old child out of the hands of his or her parent and separate that family to deter future migration,” he says, responding to the Republican labeling of the border situation as a crisis, and making references to Donald Trump’s administration.
“The immigration system is broken, and it is in need of legislative reform,” Mayorkas said, noting there is legislation pending before the house. He said he was “confident and optimistic” that lawmakers could “once and for all” begin to fix the immigration system.
Information from Ben Fox and Elliot Spagat of the Associated Press was used in this report.