Local officials from the Texas-Mexico border, civil rights attorneys and the heads of law enforcement agencies spent hours Friday detailing for Texas House members how the large number of migrants crossing the southern border is straining several government entities.
And lawmakers discussed ways the state could help with the ongoing border crisis that has drawn national attention and spurred partisan battles in Washington, D.C. Many legislators were concerned about conditions in federal holding facilities in Texas, where a number of children in custody have died due to illness and there have been reports of sexual abuse.
“This to me, is the largest concern — the health and well-being of people that are in our custody and care,” said state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston.
His and other officials’ comments came during a joint hearing of the House’s International Relations and Economic Development Committee and Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. Earlier this month, the federal government reported the number of migrants had dropped from May to June, but still said operations at the border are at a crisis level.
David Kostroun, the deputy executive commissioner for regulatory services with Texas Health and Human Service Commission, said when there is a death due to illness in a federal holding center, HHSC has the ability to respond and conduct an investigation to make sure it’s not an outbreak of a greater illness.
The HHSC, however, does not have the authority to regularly enter and assess conditions in federal facilities.
The same is true for sexual assault cases. An attorney for the Texas Department of Family Protective Services said the state operates a 24-hour sexual abuse hotlines that receives notices of abuse that take place in private homes, state facilities and federal facilities. But the state’s jurisdiction falls short of investigating cases that occur in federal facilities.
“If it is a federally operated facility that is not state licensed, DFPS lacks the authority to investigate,” said DFPS Deputy General Counsel Tiffany Roper.
Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens said the local immigrant processing center has been releasing five to 20 migrants into the county each day in recent weeks, a total of 5,300 people since May 11.
“It’s different in every city and every county, but this should not be our problem,” Owens said. “These are the cards we’ve been dealt, we’re going to take care of it, but it should not be our problem.”