Mar 17, 2021
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript March 17: Unaccompanied Minors at Border
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference on March 17, 2021 to discuss unaccompanied minors at the border. Read the full transcript of the news briefing here.
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Governor Greg Abbott: (00:05)
Well, thank you everybody for being here today. We have with us Director Steve McCraw, who is the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. We have Andrea Sparks, who I will tell you more about before she gives her remarks, as well as Cristy Lopez, who works with a leader of what’s called Traffick911, and she’ll tell you more about what she does momentarily. Let me begin with this. Across the street from where we gather today, at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, is where the Biden Administration is preparing to house up to 3,000 unaccompanied minors who cross the border. Similar sites exist in Carrizo Springs, Texas, as well as Midland, Texas. And that’s just as of now. The way that we see the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, there is every reason for Americans to expect the number and size of those sites to continue to increase in the coming days.
Governor Greg Abbott: (01:11)
These sites are a direct result of President Biden’s reckless open border policies that are causing a surge in border crossings and cartel activity. The administration has yet to provide answers that Texans deserve. How long will these children be here? What countries have they come from? And what COVID variants have they been exposed to? Are they being tested for COVID? And if so, how is the administration handling those who test positive? Is the federal government following CDC quarantine protocols? What happens to these children if they do test positive for COVID, and if they do become ill? Who is it that’s going to be taking care of them?
Governor Greg Abbott: (02:05)
The Biden Administration must also answer for enticing unaccompanied minors into inhumane conditions, inhumane conditions that expose these children to traffickers, to abuse, and to terror. So far, this year, more than 11,000 minors have been apprehended crossing the border into Texas. Children crossing the border rose 60% from January to February, to more than 9,400 in February. The number of migrants crossing the border is at the highest since March, 2019, and is on pace to hit a 20-year high. On Monday alone, the Border Patrol took in about 280 child migrants in the Rio Grande Valley sector.
Governor Greg Abbott: (03:07)
America needs to know how these children, some are young children, how they are coming across the border, and who is it that is helping these children come across the border? Americans need to know whether or not these children were harmed or abused in any way. They need to know if these children were assisted, coerced, or threatened by cartel members or by human traffickers. Were they forced to carry contraband as they made the trek across Mexico to the American border? All of this is vital information that can help America combat these human traffickers and prevent other children from being victimized.
Governor Greg Abbott: (03:57)
Americans deserve to know what the Biden Administration is doing to get those answers. And Americans deserve to know what the Biden Administration is doing to go after these human traffickers who are preying upon these young children. The Biden Administration, to get those answers, should interview every unaccompanied child coming across the border. They should determine if any child has been harmed in any way, or victimized by human traffickers. Things like this are already being done very professionally and very compassionately for children in America who are victims of human trafficking. The children coming across the border, they may share information about human traffickers or other abusers. This information can help us root out human trafficking, as well as other criminal activity.
Governor Greg Abbott: (04:59)
Now, doing these things is the federal government’s responsibility. But once again, it is Texas stepping up and doing what the federal government should be doing. Weeks ago, I launched Operation Lone Star to help secure the border and combat the smuggling of people and drugs into Texas. The Texas Department of Public Safety has deployed 1,000 DPS officers, agents, and rangers to support Operation Lone Star. Today, we are expanding the scope of Operation Lone Star to crack down on human trafficking. The Department of Public Safety will work with the already longstanding Governor’s Child Sex Trafficking Team, as well as with other organizations and agencies that have experience in dealing with human trafficking and child trafficking.
Governor Greg Abbott: (05:59)
The Texas Department of Public Safety has been and will be apprehending unaccompanied minors who cross the border. And when they do, they will be seeking information about human traffickers as well as other crimes that may have occurred. Today, I am directly asking the Biden Administration to allow the Texas Department of Public Safety to access this facility across the street at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center, as well as the other federally run facilities in Texas, to be able to talk to these unaccompanied minors. We must get to the bottom of the human trafficking and put an end to it.
Governor Greg Abbott: (06:46)
The thought of any child suffering at the hands of human traffickers is completely unacceptable. We have a duty to crack down on this heinous crime and to prevent more children from being trafficked and abused. And our mission is especially important now, with a massive surge in border crossings, and with an administration in Washington that has not laid out a clear plan about how to address this challenge about human trafficking, or candidly, to be able to address the massive surge that’s coming across the border.
Governor Greg Abbott: (07:26)
So whether it’s securing the border or fighting human trafficking, the State of Texas will always step up and fill in the gaps that are left open by Washington. And I want to thank the brave men and women of the Texas Department of Public Safety, who are on the front lines every single day. Their efforts are vital to work to address this humanitarian crisis and to keep our community safe.
Governor Greg Abbott: (07:55)
Leading the charge in keeping our community safe is director Steve McCraw of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Speaker 1: (08:06)
Governor, thank you. Certainly, it’s not my position to comment on policy. And as you know, we abhor having to do so. But sometimes unfortunately, seemingly compassionate decisions made where by federal government or federal courts for that matter have resulted in the mass migration of women and children to Texas and elsewhere. And when that happens, it overwhelms border patrol immediately.
Speaker 1: (08:34)
And of course, the governor launched Operation Lone Star, obviously because the cartels are leveraging those gaps that have been created by overwhelming border patrol and putting them in the defense in terms of detaining and all the resources they have to commit towards taking care of these children, which they must do, which is so vitally important. And it’s important that they interview each of these and find out what has happened. But I can tell you the challenge they have in interviewing these children is this, is they’ve been threatened by the cartels.
Speaker 1: (09:01)
When the cartel says, “If you talk, we’re going to go kill your families,” they actually mean that. And, if you’re in Mexico or Central America or from there, they have a great distrust of law enforcement and concern, and they believe that when the cartels say that. So it’s a challenge to detect those things and work this.
Speaker 1: (09:18)
But in Texas, as the governor pointed out, we cherish children. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, and we have an obligation to pursue all crimes against children, regardless of where it happens. And unfortunately, many of these children, when they are brought across are preyed upon by individuals, amongst the smugglers, by the cartel operas, and others. So, the challenge for us is in supporting the border patrol, stepping forward and doing what the State of Texas expects is ensuring that even on the front line, our troopers are trained in interdiction and protection of children. Identifying the indicators where children have been abused, when they have been sexually assaulted, and people that accompany with them, that are suspicious.
Speaker 1: (09:58)
I mean, in March alone, there’s sex offenders that have been convicted and deported, or captured with among illegal aliens coming across family units and unaccompanied children. It’s important that we identify those things, pursue those things, and ensure there’s no crime.
Speaker 1: (10:13)
What’s often not mentioned. We recognize that the gaps create that methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, fentanyl. If you’ve got a drug problem in the U.S., that’s coming through the border. We recognize that and they’re exploiting children for that purpose. The other part, what people don’t realize is there’s this category, we’ll call for this purposes, we’ll call a high value migrant. And unfortunately, those that have involved and there’s some behind me that have been involved in sex trafficking investigations.
Speaker 1: (10:41)
What happens is young women from Central America and Mexico are lured to Texas on the promise of a service industry job, or a nanny, or some other job. And when they come here to the United States, and there’s a case that was this discussing and thank you for what you do in helping us with our investigations. The case that would stay in your soul, if you saw what would happen, what people will do to mankind, our most precious, the children is just amazing. It’s just sickening. And what they would do is promise these jobs. They get them here.
Speaker 1: (11:12)
They debrief them fully to know where their families are. How can they get contact? Because if they escape, they can compel them back by threatening their families. And it’s happened. And they’ll bring them over as young as 13 years old. And after they debriefed them, they’ll gang rape and then they’ll compel them to prostitution. They don’t care if it’s 15 minutes for $45, some of the most brutal things you’ve seen done to children, it happened in the US.
Speaker 1: (11:34)
And right now we’re concerned about it. I know the governor is concerned about it. I know that in response to concern about others, that care about children from around the world as victims, that’s is an opportunity for the sex industry to exploit it. Certainly, the cartels benefit when these gaps occur, when this mass migration happens. They benefit. But so does the gangs that support them and on both sides of the border. And so does the sex trafficking industry trying to feed this unending demand for trafficking and the more high value trafficking is the young children.
Speaker 1: (12:09)
So it’s clearly a high priority department and governor talked about it. We discussed it yesterday that the Department of Public Safety, I mean, he’s made it clear. The state legislature has made it clear is that it’s everybody’s job as human trafficking, particularly sex traffic. And that when I say everybody, means a Texas state trooper needs to be an expert in it, a special agent, the DPS special agent needs to be an expert in it. So does our intelligence analysts. And so does Texas Rangers. And we employ all of those resources to try to address this hideous crime.
Speaker 1: (12:43)
And of course, and consistent with Operation Lone Star, governor, we’ve stood up the state. This is the North Texas region. And we’re prepared to do interviews to look for any clues or any opportunities to pursue anyone that would violate any of these children or any other children, and certainly engage in sex trafficking. So thank you, governor.
Governor Greg Abbott: (13:04)
Thank you. And it’s my expectation that the Biden administration will allow you and your team into this convention center to visit with the children who they are putting into that convention center later on today.
Governor Greg Abbott: (13:17)
So next I want to introduce Andrea Sparks, and I want to tell you about her so we can understand the perspective that she speaks from. Andrea is the director of the governor’s child sex trafficking team, where she’s been for about four years. The team promotes policies to prevent child sexual exploitation and to bring exploiters to justice.
Governor Greg Abbott: (13:41)
Andrea’s team has become a national leader in efforts to prevent child exploitation and to support the criminal justice system in holding exploiters accountable. After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, she served as a staff attorney at the Texas Supreme Court. After that, she went on to represent both children and families in child protection cases. Before coming to the governor’s office, she served as the executive director of the Texas regional office for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Andrea Sparks.
Andrea Sparks: (14:14)
Thank you, governor. Thank you for assembling us here today to talk about this very, very critical issue. We are very concerned at the child sex trafficking team about the youth and the children who are coming across the border. They are in a perfect storm of vulnerability. We’ve heard stories that kids as young as six are crossing the border alone and they are scared. They are confused, and they are very likely to end up in the hands of an exploiter from what we know about human trafficking and how it works.
Andrea Sparks: (14:47)
Our team has been at work for almost five years now, governor, to build the model, the Texas model for commercially sexually exploited youth. And we have a system in place that can help any child, every child who is identified as a victim of exploitation. So we work every day and are committed to preventing, identifying, and addressing child exploitation, whether that comes in the form of a pimp or a gang or a family member. Unfortunately, that happens, and even international cartels.
Andrea Sparks: (15:24)
And we do this on a daily basis with our partners that we provide support to and partner with on a daily basis at the children’s advocacy centers and at many other child serving agencies across the State of Texas. We do that so that these kids get the safety that they need and deserve, and the services and supports they need to not only heal from their trafficking experience, but in order to thrive as a person, as a human being. And so with us today is one of those service providers, and I’m going to let her talk to y’all in a minute. We do have specially trained advocates and case managers like Christie all over the state of Texas in over 130 counties who can provide crisis intervention, longterm case management, and that trauma informed care and supportive relationship that these kids need, especially if they’re being exploited. And we stand ready, Governor, and Director McCraw to work with you as always to make sure that every child in Texas is protected from exploitation.
Governor Greg Abbott: (16:31)
Thank you very much. And as you mentioned, one of your partners is an organization, the name of which is Traffick911 And from that organization we have with us here today, Kristy Lopez.
Kristy Lopez: (16:42)
Thank you for having us, governor. I am an advocate with Traffick911 and it is our pleasure to partner with the Governor’s office to ensure that any and all exploited children and youth in North Texas have access to services, are able to receive trauma informed care, and that are able to connect with the safe and healthy relationships that they need to heal and thrive. [foreign language 00:17:05].
Governor Greg Abbott: (17:07)
Thank you very much. We’ll take a few questions.
Speaker 2: (17:46)
Governor, [inaudible 00:17:47]. There have been [inaudible 00:17:47] set up by the Trump administration. There have been children exploited for years. You’ve been the Governor for eight years. Why haven’t you been more [inaudible 00:17:56]?
Governor Greg Abbott: (17:56)
To be clear, every year that I have been Governor, we have been engaged in border surges exactly like what we’re doing now. From the first session that I was Governor the State legislature appropriated almost a billion dollars for every biennium from the beginning until now, so that we do have the resources to deploy not only the Texas Department of Public Safety, but also the National Guard. And so, for this entire time moving in different numbers, but also maintaining a constant presence. Both the Texas Department of Public Safety and the National Guard had been involved. There is something different this time in far more prolifically than in the past. Quite often in the past, there has been a large number of single adults or family units coming across the border.
Governor Greg Abbott: (18:47)
What we’re seeing now is far more prolific numbers in unaccompanied children making their way to locations like here in Dallas or Midland or other parts of the State of Texas. And as director McCall pointed out, his team has been involved in the past in dealing with the human trafficking component about this, but because of the large number of children already, and because it is clear what is about to happen in the coming weeks and months, and that is the number of children you see have come across the border already is going to be a tiny fraction of what we will see in the coming months. We’re trying to get ahead of this as much as possible and engage a team like this. That said, let me be very clear about this and that is Texas is willing to step up and help out, but this is the Biden’s administration responsibility in part, immigration is always a federal responsibility.
Governor Greg Abbott: (19:42)
In part, it’s the policies that have been adopted by the Biden administration that have escalated the number of children coming across the border where the Biden administration has made it clear that if you are an unaccompanied child, you will be allowed to come into the United States. That means that we need to engage more now than ever before with regard to the human trafficking component. That said again, to be clear, my expectation is today, the Biden administration will step up and do his job to address the human trafficking component about this. If they fail to do so, for one, they should answer to Americans why they are failing these children and this human trafficking enterprise. But also, if they failed to do so, we will use every tool that we have available to us to fully address this challenge.
Speaker 3: (20:34)
[inaudible 00:20:34] already have [inaudible 00:20:34] Republican administration of former President Trump. It’s not like these children are newcomers who found themselves [inaudible 00:20:51]. They are children who are being held in inhumane circumstances and the Biden administration is tying to make sure that the image of America is not soiled, doesn’t become this bad image of see what we are doing to children. So given [inaudible 00:21:11] is basically an institution of the American federal government [inaudible 00:21:18] to take care of them, but they will still be within the confines of American government and you’re a part of that government. Are you politicizing this issue or why do you think that the inhumane methods should be used, these children should suffer if they are victims of child trafficking. If that is what is being done to help them, why are you against what is right? Why are you making America look bad before the international [inaudible 00:21:48]?
Governor Greg Abbott: (21:48)
Several things in response. As I’ve made clear, Texas as a State coming out of our own State budget have been very aggressive in dealing with the challenges coming across the border during the entirety of my governorship, and then preceding my governorship. Texans should not have to be coming out of Texas taxpayer pocketbooks to do the federal government’s job. During the course of our response, director McCraw and his staff with the Texas Department of Public Safety and others have been engaged in this process of trying to root out the human trafficking element. But let’s clarify something that you said that I disagree with. The Biden administration opened the flood gates to any child who wants to come across the border is going to be able to come across the border. And I know from what’s going on on the ground, they are completely ill prepared for this.
Governor Greg Abbott: (22:44)
One easy example and that is when the amount of children coming across the border turn out to be far more than what they expected, they had no clue where to send those children on what was it? Saturday night, this past Saturday night, there was an email sent from Federal Health and Human Services to my staff at 9:30 PM that I did not get until about 10:00 PM on Saturday night. Federal Health and Human Services they were scrambling to try to find some location, where to send those children. And they eventually wound up deciding over the night those children would be going to Midland, Texas without knowing whether or not there’s running water or workable sewage or what the conditions may be.
Governor Greg Abbott: (23:33)
They were scrambling talking to other locations around the State of Texas trying to find a location for the children who were coming to Dallas, Texas. The Biden administration is completely not prepared for the number of children coming across this border. And the worst thing about it however, and this is maybe the most important thing I could tell America right now. What the Biden administration is doing by allowing any child who wants to come across the border to come here, it means that he is going to subject thousands upon thousands upon thousands of children to the horrific trauma, maybe assault and human trafficking that these children have to go through as they make that trek through the border. I urge President Biden do not traumatize these children by enticing them to make this trek. President, you have the ability to put an end to this and ensure the safety of these children, by not enticing them into that very dangerous trek. [crosstalk 00:24:36]
Speaker 4: (24:35)
Governor, the first point that you made today was about the potential spread of the coronavirus and that these unaccompanied children may add to that spread. There are people out there governor, respectfully, that will say you drop the mask mandate last week, you’ve lifted all coronavirus restrictions. To those who say you aren’t the right person right now to be speaking about potential additional spread of the coronavirus, what would you say to them?
Governor Greg Abbott: (24:58)
When we make decisions about opening up, which by the way when I made my announcement, Texas was already open up 75%. So we went from 75% to a 100%. And that decision was based upon several different data points. It was based upon the reduction in the positivity rate, which the last I saw was yesterday, it dropped down to 6% for two days in a row. It was based on the dramatic reduction in hospitalizations, which is the lowest in six months. The positivity rate is the lowest in almost 10 months. And the vaccines have just continued to increase. Very importantly, we look at those who are most in danger of either losing their life or being hospitalized because of the exposure to COVID. And those are people who are age 65 and older. And well over 55% of the people who fall into that most vulnerable population for COVID have received a vaccine shot.
Governor Greg Abbott: (26:06)
My point is this, decisions were based upon metrics as they existed at that time. Those metrics are changing, not by the positivity rate of the people who are coming across the border, but by the number of people coming across the border who have COVID and who may be bringing variants in. The key point that I wanted to make about COVID was really the variant. Know this, people coming across the border, for one, they’re coming through Mexico, which is considered to be one of the hotspots for COVID in the world. But how many of these kids are coming from Brazil? How many are coming from Central America that may have exposure to the variant in Brazil? We know others are coming from other continents across the entire globe. There are all these other variants.
Governor Greg Abbott: (26:57)
My point is this, the Biden administration has a responsibility to work collaboratively with state health services, so the state will be able to respond. The Biden administration has done nothing to work with state health services to inform state health services, who are these kids? Where are they coming from? What exposure they may have? We as a state are incapable of responding to this potential COVID challenge because of the Biden’s administration’s refusal to provide us the information we need to be able to respond to contain COVID. [crosstalk 00:27:33]
Speaker 5: (27:33)
Governor are you saying the most humane thing to do is to [crosstalk 00:27:40].
Speaker 6: (27:41)
He had been offered health funding by the White House to test migrants, can you comment on Biden [crosstalk 00:27:48]?
Governor Greg Abbott: (27:49)
I’ll be happy to. The Biden administration offered the state funding to give to FEMA to do testing. The F in FEMA stands for federal, the federal government has the full capability of giving money and COVID test to FEMA without even having to talk to the governor about it. They did not need my permission to get that done as was proven by the fact that they have done it since my refusal to participate in it. All they wanted to do, that was a political game by the Biden administration, where they wanted to try to have Texas assist them in their illegal immigration program, which we refuse to do.
Governor Greg Abbott: (28:34)
The federal government has the money. They have the federal agencies, whether it be FEMA or Federal Health and Human Services or ICE, where this tests can be run. To be clear about this, if the Biden administration is doing it correctly… I’m going to explain the process. First, when a person comes across the border, they first encountered, typically, a border patrol officer, that border patrol officer after the detention, they have to turn them over to ICE. When they first go into a holding situation, it should be ICE that performs the test, that performs the quarantine, that performs the medical assessment. And that is the responsibility of the federal government, not the state government. [crosstalk 00:29:17].
Speaker 7: (29:21)
Two more questions. Two more. [crosstalk 00:29:22].
Governor Greg Abbott: (29:21)
We’ll get you. Here and then you.
Speaker 8: (29:23)
Was the amount [inaudible 00:29:23] before Joe Biden was president they required admitting minors at the border verus others who would come through.
Governor Greg Abbott: (29:33)
Sure. And are you maybe talking about the Flores decision or something like that? So here’s the deal, whatever court order it was, there are issues with regard to allowing children in, but that does not answer the Biden administration’s failure to fully address the children who are coming in. For one, they do have a responsibility in the time of a worldwide pandemic to make the COVID assessment. But more importantly, what we’re really here to talk about is not that. What we are really here to talk about is we do have the strategies and the capabilities of addressing the human trafficking component that these children are going through. And we are demanding that the Biden administration step up and address the human trafficking component of all these children coming here. [crosstalk 00:30:25].
Speaker 7: (30:24)
Last question. Last question.
Governor Greg Abbott: (30:26)
Speaker 2: (30:27)
Governor, can you please explain to Texans, two part question. Where are you specifically as it relates to reversing ERCOT’s overcharges, do you agree with the State Senate bill, Lieutenant governor, as far as reversing it or do you agree with that House Speaker who opposes it? Secondly, can you explain why you asked for the GC chair’s resignation and did it have anything to do with the comments you made to [inaudible 00:30:53]?
Governor Greg Abbott: (30:54)
So, on the first question, I’ve already made multiple comments about that, and I’ll just leave those comments. You can pull them up. With regard to the second question. Listen, we want to make sure that we are going to show the vision to our fellow Texans, that we are charting a new and fresh course for the public utilities commission. And the action that I made is one of many steps that will be taken to achieve those goals. Thank you all very much.