SAN ANTONIO – Based on their experiences there, several volunteers at the Freeman Coliseum Expo Hall said they were surprised by Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement Wednesday that Texas Rangers are investigating possible abuse and other “credible” allegations at the facility.
Yet they expressed concern over any possible abuse that might have occurred.
They agreed with Giselle Thompson, who volunteered there most of last week and will be back this weekend.
“Any allegation, any child that comes forward with any of these types of allegations, you have to listen to them,” Thompson said.
But otherwise, judging on what Mark Praetor saw last week when he volunteered for several hours there, “My impression was that the youth had been pretty well taken care of, given the circumstances.”
Learning what the governor had said, Praetor said, “It sounded like maybe he hadn’t visited yet.”
Praetor’s wife, Melinda, who also volunteered for a shift last week, said she disagreed with what the governor was saying about COVID-19 positive youth not being segregated from the others.
“That was kind of frustrating just because that was not what I witnessed at all,” Melinda Praetor said.
Abbott also said it was alleged the young migrants, most of them teenagers, were not being properly fed.
“They have lots of food,” Thompson said. “The kids sometimes complain that they’re feeding them too much.”
Thompson said it would help if the meals were spaced out since the migrants get generous morning and afternoon snacks.
However, the volunteers agreed more adult staff and volunteers are needed to work with the 1,645 migrant youth temporarily housed there as of Tuesday night.
“I know that they’re trying to do a lot of hiring,” Thompson said. “They’re trying to get a lot of volunteers.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said she could not comment on the allegations since those are under investigation.
But she said trained youth care workers and security personnel are monitoring the migrant youth around the clock.
Thompson said it this way: “There are people everywhere all the time,” even adults outside the bathrooms and port-a-potties counting the number of young migrants when they get in line and after they’re all done.
She also said they quickly go in and out because “they know that there’s other kids waiting.”