Texas Governor Greg Abbott Says Water Unsafe at Federal Facility for Migrant Children

A temporary facility to house unaccompanied minor migrants in Midland, Texas, does not have clean water, according to Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

"There's no telling what could be in [the water], including the possibility of arsenic, so the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is evaluating the water, the running water. So there is no viable, usable running water at the location in Midland," the Republican governor said on Fox News on Friday.

He added, "On top of that, more than 10 percent of the migrants at the Midland location have tested positive for COVID-19."

The Biden Admin. has turned a humanitarian crisis into a complete disaster.

One location where migrants are housed has no clean running water & has a massive Covid outbreak.

Another location also has a massive Covid outbreak.

They were unprepared for open border policies. pic.twitter.com/qRAHdwbRdt

— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) March 19, 2021

The Midland facility, operated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), was opened at the site of a former camp for oil field workers and will house about 700 children aged 17 or younger, officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told The Texas Tribune.

Abbott said the Midland facility had been using well water, but Texas water authorities became aware the water had not been proven safe before children were placed there, according to a statement from the governor's office released Friday. Abbott has deployed the Texas Commission of Environment Quality (TCEQ) to notify the Midland facility of the need to address "the serious water issues."

"The Biden Administration has no excuse for subjecting these children to these kinds of conditions," Abbott said in the statement. "It is exposing innocent unaccompanied children to illness and potentially unsafe living conditions."

A spokesperson for HHS told Newsweek that the Midland site provides requisite "standards of care" for children such as clean water, sleeping quarters, meals, laundry and medical services.

"We are in contact with our contractor to ensure clean water is accessible for kids and staff in the facility," the spokesperson said. "The water at the facilities is deemed potable and is tested regularly above standards. Currently all staff and [children] have bottled water for drinking. The contractor can also bring in reverse Osmosis system if needed."

A TCEQ spokesperson confirmed to Newsweek that the on-site well at the facility is not being used for drinking water. The well will be "offline" until TCEQ receives plans and water data to approve the source for drinking water, the spokesperson said, and is awaiting that data.

"Potable water is being delivered to the site," the spokesperson said. "A boil water notice is in effect until bacteriological samples can be collected and analyzed by an accredited drinking water laboratory."

The notice can be rescinded once the water samples test negative for dangerous bacteria.

child migrant
A migrant boy from Central America feeds pigeons as he waits with his mother for their coronavirus tests after they were dropped off by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at a bus station near the Gateway International Bridge, between the cities of Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico, on March 15. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

A surge in unaccompanied child migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has posed a challenge for the Biden administration, which is trying to respond to the crisis while also revamping immigration policy. The number of unaccompanied children crossing the border increased 96 percent in February from a year ago, an official with Customs and Border Protection confirmed to Newsweek this week.

Revamping immigration policy amid a pandemic has proven difficult. Economic hardship and violence are driving thousands of migrants to the U.S., only to be turned away. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a statement Tuesday confirming the administration is accepting unaccompanied child arrivals but turning away most single adults and families.

After child arrivals are encountered by immigration authorities, they are held in CBP stations before being moved to facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of HHS. Kids spend an average of 42 days in HHS shelters before they are released to a guardian or sponsor. Children must be transferred out of CBP custody within 72 hours, but most spend an average of 117 hours waiting in short-term holding facilities.

The Biden administration is attempting to address the overflow of unaccompanied children by opening additional facilities like the one in Midland, but Abbott said Friday the White House is "completely unprepared for this massive influx."

Abbott added the situation in Midland is a "crisis" and a "humanitarian disaster" and criticized the Biden administration for its hesitancy to use the word "crisis" to describe the situation at the border.

Newsweek reached out to the city of Midland and Abbott for comment but did not receive replies in time for publication.

This story has been updated to include a comment from a Texas Commission of Environment Quality spokesperson.