EL PASO, Texas -- Allegations that migrant children being cared for at a Texas shelter may have been sexually abused need to be investigated, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (D-El Paso) said Thursday - but she added that Gov. Gregg Abbott (R-Texas), who raised the claims, has "zero credibility" in her view.
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In a hastily called news conference on Wednesday evening, Abbott said complaints about sexual assault at a federally-run shelter facility at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio were reported to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as well as the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
The governor said he did not know the identities of those who alleged assault, nor did he provide details. He said he was concerned more than one child may have been assaulted and directed the Texas Rangers to investigate.
“In short, this facility is a health and safety nightmare,” Abbott said, blaming the Biden administration for the abuse and demanding that it to shut down the shelter, which ABC affiliate KSAT reported is housing more than 1,300 teens who recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without a parent or guardian.
Escobar, speaking to reporters Thursday after a meeting with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in El Paso, agreed that an investigation must occur. But she questioned Abbott's motives and reliability in raising the accusations.
"Any allegation (of abuse) must be thoroughly investigated," Escobar said, however "Gov. Greg Abbott has zero credibility" and "plays politics" when it comes to immigration issues.
Escobar maintained the governor has been a critic since day one of the Biden administration's immigration efforts - yet sat quiet during the Trump era as "children were held in cages" and the immigration system was largely dismantled, with "no orderly transition" because of Trump's refusal to accept the election results.
In addition, she faulted Abbott for the state's recent refusal to accept FEMA money from the federal government to help border communities with testing migrants for Covid-19 and providing other care.
The dueling comments from Escobar and Abbott come as Texas and the U.S. government are locked in battle over a recent increase in the number of migrants crossing the state’s southern border.
Newly released data Thursday from U.S. Customs and Border Protection showed nearly 19,000 kids were picked up traveling alone across the border in March, which was the largest monthly number ever tallied.
(The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.)