HOUSTON (CN) — Exasperated by the thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the border into Texas, Governor Greg Abbott asked President Joe Biden's administration Wednesday to let Texas law enforcement interview these youths to find out if they are being lured by human traffickers.
Speaking in Dallas across the street from the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, where the Biden administration on Wednesday started housing male immigrants ages 15 to 17 who recently crossed the border, the Republican governor said, "The administration has yet to provide answers that Texans deserve: How long will these children be here? What countries have they come from? And what Covid variants have they been exposed to? Are they being tested for Covid, and if so how is the administration handling those who test positive?"
According to Abbott, Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 11,000 immigrant children at the southwest border this year.
Legally they are only supposed to be held for no more than 72 hours in Border Patrol stations before they are transferred to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services.
But because HHS has run out of shelter space, the Biden administration leased the Dallas convention center to house up to 3,000 youths and is also housing some in Midland, Texas.
Biden, who has deployed Federal Emergency Management Agency staff to the border to help arriving children find shelter and provide them with food, water and medical care, is facing harsh criticism for the crisis from Republicans who say he brought it on by reversing a Trump-era policy of immediately expelling nearly all border crossers purportedly to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The Biden administration is also sending families and adults back to Mexico, but is taking in children traveling alone with the goal of quickly transferring them to the care of family living in the U.S.
Most of the children are from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and immigration advocates say they are fleeing extreme poverty, a lack of job prospects, extortionist gangs and some were uprooted when two hurricanes that battered the region late last year destroyed or flooded their homes.
Biden had a blunt message Tuesday night for others preparing to make the journey north.
"I can say quite clearly, don't come. And what we're in the process of getting set up — and it's not going to take a whole long time — is to be able to apply for asylum in place. So don't leave your town or city or community," he said in an interview with ABC News.
With the Border Patrol apprehending more than 100,000 people at the Southwest Border in February alone, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warns the surge is on pace to be the largest in two decades, though many of those detained have tried to cross multiple times, and some set off for the U.S. last year well before the November presidential election because it takes so long to make the trip.
Abbott has been Biden's harshest critic on this front.
Last week he deployed more than 500 National Guard troops to the border to man observation posts at the direction of Texas Department of Public Safety troopers for "Operation Lone Star," funded by $800 million the Republican-controlled Legislature budgeted for border security.
Abbott amped up his rhetoric Wednesday even as critics claim he is merely trying to distract from the fallout of the power outage debacle last month that left millions of Texans without electricity for days, several of whom died from hypothermia, as an Arctic blast brought the coldest weather the state had seen in decades.
He said the new shelters the feds have scrambled to set up in Texas are a "direct result of President Biden's reckless open border policies," and the administration must "answer for enticing unaccompanied minors into inhumane conditions that expose these children to traffickers to abuse and to terror."
With a row of Texas DPS troopers standing behind him in their Stetson hats, Abbott said Wednesday he is expanding Operation Lone Star to crack down on human trafficking.
He said DPS troopers will be apprehending youths who cross the border and seeking information about human trafficking and "other crimes that may have occurred," speculating that some may have been forced by cartels to haul illegal drugs across Mexico.
"Today I'm directly asking the Biden administration to allow the Texas Department of Public Safety to access the facility across the street, as well as the other federally run facilities in Texas, to be able to talk to these unaccompanied minors. We must get to the bottom of the human trafficking and put an end to it,” Abbott said.
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