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Bexar County’s Freeman Coliseum Site Will House 2,400 Migrant Children Who Arrive At The Border Without Their Parents

The grounds of Bexar County's Freeman Coliseum
Bexar County/Courtesy Photo
The grounds of Bexar County's Freeman Coliseum

Bexar County will provide temporary shelter for up 2,400 unaccompanied children at the Freeman Coliseum’s Expo Hall for the next two months.

The county provided details about a formal agreement with the federal Health and Human Services (HHS) department Friday. The expo hall will be divided into three areas: two for housing and one for meals, recreation and entertainment. The children — mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — are expected to arrive in San Antonio next week.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff first announced the county was approached by HHS and FEMA earlier this week but a terms had not been decided.

“As you know we have a huge humanitarian crisis on our hand at the border where a lot of young people have had to leave their homes … (in) Central America due to numerous conditions that have occurred down there not the least being the last two hurricanes that have devastated that area,” he said.

The Freeman Coliseum Expo Hall
Bexar County
The Freeman Coliseum Expo Hall

The border crisis has fueled political wrangling about who is to blame for the increase in arrivals. During a press conference on Friday, Wolff told reporters it doesn’t matter who is responsible.

“You can blame Trump, you can blame Biden, you can blame whoever you want to blame, but these are children and a good solid strong community reaches out to help people like that and that’s exactly what we’re doing here today,” said Wolff.

The Freeman expo hall will be divided into three areas, two for housing and one for meals, recreation and entertainment.

HHS would provide the beds, three hot meals per day, daily indoor and outdoor recreation, showers, and clothing. It will also be responsible for providing medical assistance.

A private security firm will provide security inside the facility. In addition to the space, the coliseum will provide 24-hour fire watch service provided by the fire marshal.

Once arriving at Freeman, Health and Human Services will attempt to unite the child with a family member in the U.S.

“The priority is to release them to a family member that’s here in the United States whether it’s a mother or father, or it’s a grandmother or grandfather, or whether it’s an aunt or uncle or close relationship,” Wolff said. “That would be the thing that would try to do.”

If a family member cannot be found, the child will be transferred to state-licensed facilities like Seton Home, Baptist Family Services and St. PJ’s Children’s Home; each of have already indicated commitment to help, according to Wolff. The goal is to have children stay there no longer than a week.

Catholic Charities and Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) will be providing mental health, legal assistance and case management.

Children will be tested for COVID-19 before leaving the facilities at the border and will be retested for the virus every five days at Freeman. Judge Wolff said on Friday’s daily coronavirus briefing that children who test positive will be in a separate cohort with medical treatment.

Bexar County Pct. 1 Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores said the county’s goal is to be a good neighbor.

“If this helps to alleviate the overcrowding at the border then who are we to tell children ‘No, you are not welcome here,” she said.

Earlier this week, HHS and its Office of Refugee Resettlement saidJoint Base San Antonio-Lackland and Ft. Bliss in El Paso would also house children. But this is not the first time San Antonio facilities have been used as shelters.

San Antonio has hosted or served as a transition point for migrants who were detained by Customs and Border protection at the border and allowed to remain in the United States.

A surge of migrant children arriving at the border in 2014 saw use of Lacklandfor the first time.

Amid an increase of asylum seekers two years ago, the City of San Antonio set up a migrant resource center for people being released and dropped off near the downtown Greyhound bus station.

The counteract between the county and HHS is expected to terminate on May 30 but each side has the ability to end use of the Freeman site with a seven day notice.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules