SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio immigrants’ rights advocate groups are calling for more transparency from elected officials after touring the Freeman Coliseum following recent allegations.
Organizers from San Antonio immigrants’ rights advocates and community organizers, including the Texas Organizing Project, SA Stands, and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center spoke out Sunday following the tour of the coliseum, which was arranged by Congressman Joaquin Castro.
Currently, the Freeman Coliseum’s Expo Hall is being used to house more than 1,800 migrant children.
The visit by the group comes after Gov. Greg Abbott reported allegations of sexual abuse, understaffing and COVID-related concerns at the facility last week. Democratic state lawmakers also visited the coliseum on Friday.
Coalition members said during a news conference Sunday that they are fighting for the children to have faster reunification times with family members and are asking for federal agencies to be more transparent about the facility’s happenings and COVID-19 numbers.
“As you probably already know, there have been a lot of claims about what is going on inside and what the conditions are inside. We were tested before going in the facility. What we heard was that there were (about) 1,800 children—as of this afternoon— in the facility,” said Jessica Azua, with SA Stands. “We also heard that most of the children had been cared for for the past two weeks, since the facility’s opening date.”
According to Azua, of the 1,180 estimated children in custody, three of the children have aged out of the facility—meaning they turned 18 while inside the Freeman Expo Center.
However, Azua said, only one of the three children who aged out of the facility has been reunited with family, something that is bittersweet, considering how many other children are left inside.
Azua said they are asking for federal agencies and the local government to help speed up the reunification process.
Before the tour, coalition members say they were tested for COVID-19 and that there was a separate unit for children in custody who have tested positive for the virus. To date, Azua said, there are nearly 200 of the children that have tested positive.
The group is asking for federal officials to post numbers on their respective websites about how many of the children are in custody and how many are COVID-19 positive.
“It is very overwhelming, but I feel like the top priority for us right now and the top concern for us is that only one child has been officially reunited (with their family) out of the (estimated) 1,800. It also seems that the staff and different agencies running this place are prepping for a long-term facility, which is a no for us,” said Carolina Canizales, with SA Stands. “We do not want this to be expanded more than 60 days.”
The groups also said in a statement that they “condemn Gov. Greg Abbott for playing politics with the lives of unaccompanied minors who have endured traumatic conditions in their journey for refuge, and believe the reunification of all children at the facility with their families must be a top priority of the Biden administration.”
You can watch the full press conference in the video player above.