Gov. Abbott using migrant children facility as a ‘political pinata,’ Democratic lawmakers say

Rep. Castro and other state lawmakers visited the facility Friday afternoon

SAN ANTONIO – Rep. Joaquin Castro and other Texas lawmakers are calling for Gov. Greg Abbott to investigate his reported allegations of sexual abuse, understaffing and COVID-related concerns at the Freeman Coliseum shelter for unaccompanied children.

This comes after Castro and the other state lawmakers toured the Freeman facility Friday afternoon.

The visit was prompted after Abbott held a press conference Wednesday, bringing the allegations to light, saying the complaints were “credible” and made from someone inside the facility.

The governor also said the complaints were made to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Texas lawmakers said following their visit on Friday, they saw plenty of staffing and volunteers, close to 1,900 kids being housed at the facility and that nothing seemed to match up with the governor’s allegations.

Castro said if the governor’s allegations are true, he has the responsibility to investigate on his own accord as well.

“Governor Abbott made the allegations without ever going inside and visiting with the kids. The governor didn’t have the care to look these people in the face, in the eye, to see who they are and what they’re about,” Castro said. “That’s a special kind of cowardice.”

“His intent was to drop a political bomb. He’s trying to use the issue of immigration as a wedge issue,” Castro added. “The governor doesn’t care about these kids. He wants to send them back where they came from.”

WATCH KSAT 12′s 6 O’Clock News coverage below: Democratic lawmakers criticize Abbott over abuse allegations at SA migrant facility

Rep. Joaquin Castro and other Texas lawmakers are calling for Gov. Greg Abbott to investigate his reported allegations of sexual abuse, understaffing and COVID-related concerns at the Freeman Coliseum shelter for unaccompanied children.
Rep. Joaquin Castro and other Texas lawmakers are calling for Gov. Greg Abbott to investigate his reported allegations of sexual abuse, understaffing and COVID-related concerns at the Freeman Coliseum shelter for unaccompanied children.

This visit was Castro’s second time visiting the Freeman facility. He said during his first visit, the shelter housed 900 kids. As of Friday, he said the shelter is now housing close to 1,900 kids.

Castro also addressed COVID-19 concerns, saying as of yet, there are 182 kids out of 1,900 that have tested positive for COVID-19 in the facility.

Those who have tested positive have been separated from the other children and have minor symptoms, according to Castro. Kids are also tested for the virus every three days.

Rep. Trey Fischer also addressed the media after the visit and said he believes the governor is playing “piñata politics” with his recent allegations.

“The children in this facility are not anybody’s political piñata... These children are not here by their choice,” Fischer said. “If there are allegations, we take those serious and (Texas Health and Human Services) is the first to lead an investigation. But for the governor to play these piñata politics and do little or nothing to support the claim… we have to take that at face value.”

Other lawmakers that visited the facility include Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Rep. Vikki Goodwin, Rep. Christina Morales, Rep. Ray Lopez, Rep. Ann Johnson, Rep. Elizabeth Campos and Rep. Jasmine Crockett.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that it has received three calls for service regarding sexual abuse allegations at Freeman Coliseum, since Wednesday. Below is their statement:

“Since Wednesday, April 7, 2021, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has received three calls for service regarding allegations of sexual abuse at the Freeman Coliseum, where the migrant children are currently being held. Currently, we are meeting with State and Federal authorities to determine the best course of action regarding the handling of the investigations. Furthermore, although we are not managing the detention of the children or the day to day activities, their safety and basic human rights are of the utmost concern to us.”

You can watch the full press conference in the video player above.

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About the Author:

Cody King is a digital journalist for KSAT 12. She previously worked for WICS/WRSP 20 in Springfield, Illinois.