SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said during Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing that the county has been in discussions with federal officials about using Freeman Coliseum as an overflow site for migrant children crossing into the country.
“We’ve been in discussions. I’ve talked with representatives from the United States health system and FEMA,” Wolff said. “No agreements have been reached yet, but we do have facilities there. They’re climate controlled. They’re large. But, we’re talking about how we would handle security, who would be the food provider, who would actually be managing the place. It would be pretty much our job, if we do it, to coordinate with them and to make the space available, but no agreement has been reached with them yet.”
According to Wolff, the discussions have revolved around a short-term contract between the agencies if they move forward.
“I would certainly support it,” Wolff said. “Look, we’re dealing with children. Everybody can have their own opinions about what they think about immigration and who should be allowed into the country, but we’re dealing with young children, 16 years and younger. I understand some of them are as young as 4, 5 and 6 years old. So, it’s a humanitarian effort. It is not a permanent solution.”
It’s unclear yet how many children would be brought to Freeman Coliseum. However, on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service also inquired about using JBSA-Lackland to house the minors for a period of time. The Department of Defense is now reviewing the request.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said that he had not had any direct contact from HHS or the DOD about Lackland, but other bases, like Fort Bliss in El Paso, had also been listed in the request.
“We did get word late today that Health And Human Services had made outreach to the defense secretary, inquiring about the potential use of Joint Base San Antonio,” Nirenberg said. “They’ve also made inquires about other bases, like Fort Bliss. My understanding is that they are still going through a vetting process.”
Nirenberg said the city would provide the county assistance should a deal be reached. However, he hoped that everyone move forward with compassion.
“Look, what is happening on the border, as we have seen before, is just an incredible human tragedy,” Nirenberg said. “And so, my hope is that what happens going forward is treated with the utmost compassion and care. Obviously, if the county requested assistance from the city, we would be providing that.”
Wolff said he expects a decision about Freeman Coliseum in the next two to three days.