AUSTIN (KXAN) — Six Republican Texas state senators — all women — held a press conference Monday afternoon after returning from a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Sens. Jane Nelson, Joan Huffman, Donna Campbell, Lois Kolkhorst, Dawn Buckingham and Angela Paxton said they visited the Carrizo Springs Youth Processing Center and took a helicopter tour of the Rio Grande with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
This comes after new photos were released of the U.S. Custom and Border Protection’s tent processing facility in Donna, Texas. The photos show unaccompanied migrant children and teens sharing cots on a cement floor.
The photos were released by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar’s office. The senators said they hoped to visit that facility in Donna, but they were denied entry.
“We wanted to see the children, we wanted to see the conditions of the children, but we were denied entry,” said Huffman.
They explained they were motivated to see how the children were being treated, being mothers themselves.
“We are gravely concerned about how these children could be trafficked as they make their way up, how they may be sexually abused, and what fate lies for them at the end of their journey,” Huffman said.
Kolkhorst, who is chair of Health and Human Services in the Texas Senate, explained the Carrizo Springs facility is run by a nonprofit, the Baptist Children Family Services Unit. They have about 700 13 to 17 year old boys right now.
Of those boys, about 10% are testing positive for the coronavirus, Kolkhorst said. She said only the Del Rio area is testing for COVID-19 at this point.
Money is also a concern. Kolkhorst said it takes about $1,000 to care for each child every day, so for 700 teenagers, it would be $700,000. They typically stay in the facilities for an average of 10 days.
“We’ve talked a little bit about the dollar figure that has to be expended in order to care for these children. And I would say that that is something that we do willingly, because it has to be done,” said Paxton. “And these are federal policies that draw on our state, but we do it, because we value human life in the state of Texas.”
Paxton explained the only “winners” in the situation are the cartels.
“The cartels, just from smuggling human beings are profiting over $11 million… that’s just with people, and they make more, law enforcement told us today, from smuggling drugs,” Paxton said.
From fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2021, the senators explained there’s been a spike in smuggling and apprehensions.
In the Del Rio sector, which has the second-highest number of crossings in the country right now, apprehensions went from 16,240 in fiscal year 2020 to 60,554 so far in fiscal year 2021, which started in October 2020 and will run until the end of September this year, according to Kolkhorst.
The senators said they spoke with authorities at the border, asking why did this spike occur. According to Paxton, they answered it was because of the “Remain in Mexico” policy that President Biden halted.
Campbell said the situation at the border has become a “catastrophe” in a matter of months, and she attributed that to the decisions being made in Washington, D.C.