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Dallas convention center readies to house immigrant teens

March 17, 2021 GMT
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FILE - In this March 31, 2020, file photo, a sign sits in front of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas. The U.S. government wants to house up to 3,000 immigrant teenagers at the center as it struggles to find space for a surge of migrant children who have inundated the border and strained the immigration system just two months into the Biden administration. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez File)
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FILE - In this March 31, 2020, file photo, a sign sits in front of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas. The U.S. government wants to house up to 3,000 immigrant teenagers at the center as it struggles to find space for a surge of migrant children who have inundated the border and strained the immigration system just two months into the Biden administration. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez File)

DALLAS (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that a surge of migration to the U.S. from Mexico resulted in federal officials “scrambling” to find housing for unaccompanied children in a late-night email to his staff over the weekend.

He relayed the story near Dallas’ downtown convention center, which is getting ready to house up to 3,000 migrant teenagers. More facilities for migrant children are quickly opening elsewhere, including in Midland, where Abbott claimed there were no assurances about the conditions of the facility.

“The Biden Administration is completely not prepared for the number of children coming across this border,” Abbott said.

The head of the Department of Homeland Security pushed back against Republican criticism of the Biden administration’s border policies, refusing to say that the surge of migrant children entering the United States is a “crisis.”

The number of migrants attempting to cross the border is at the highest level since March 2019, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said it is on pace to hit a 20-year peak.

Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas will be used for up to 90 days, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press that was sent Monday to members of the Dallas City Council.

Federal agencies will use the facility to house boys ages 15 to 17, according to the memo.

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Abbott said he wants the Biden administration to give state troopers permission to enter federally-run facilities in Texas so they can interview migrants as part of efforts to stop human trafficking.

Several Federal Protective Service vehicles were stationed outside the convention center Wednesday afternoon, and people wearing vests with the logos of the American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency could be seen entering and leaving the building.

U.S. authorities encountered children traveling alone 9,457 times in February, nearly double the number in January and the highest since May 2019, when the figure neared 12,000 during the peak of a surge during the era of former President Donald Trump.

The memo sent to Dallas City Council members said FEMA and HHS will “be responsible for providing shelter management and contracts” for food, security, cleaning and medical care at the convention center. Dallas previously offered space to HHS during a 2014 surge of crossings of immigrant children.