Last week, Texas GovernorGreg Abbott, gave an order to retract state licenses given to child migrant shelters. These shelters cater to unaccompanied migrant children. In a bid to counteract this order, the Biden administration has threatened to sue Texas if its governor decides to go ahead with his order to shut down child migrant shelters.

The order

The Republican Governor had declared the order on memorial day. Yet, it took a step further by instructing officials to annul the state licenses of shelter facilities housing migrant children in the custody of the federal government.

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A young migrant waits to take a shower at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility in Texas

In accordance with the order, the officials advised the child migrant shelters to bring their operations to end on or before Aug 30. These shelters and foster care facilities are in the custody of the department of health and human services (HHS). HHS claims to house children who cross the southern border without their parents.

Texas’s fight with the Biden administration

Abbot’s order is seen to be calculated. A move, perhaps, borne out of a substantial escalation of Texas’s fight against Biden’s administration as regards immigration issues. This threatens to collapse and disrupt the system that caters to migrant children. This would force the government to transfer the kids to facilities not robust enough to cater to minors for a considerable amount of time.

In a statement from his office, Abbott claimed that the federal government is commandeering state resources. “The Biden Administration is yet again pressuring Texas to aid its illegal immigration program and force our state to do its job. Commandeering state resources to fulfill the federal government’s responsibility is a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Here in Texas, we will follow that law”, the statement had said. 

The federal government caused this problem and should be solely responsible for the care of these children. No child will be uncared for. Texas will remain focused on doing our job— protecting Texans”, the statement concluded.

Texas’s shelters and their capacity

Abbott also made it known that the low capacity of the state’s shelter is one of the reasons for his order. Later, he went on to say that hundreds of foster children had spent nights in hotels, community organizations, or Child Protective Services offices because there weren’t enough suitable placements.

The unabated influx of individuals resulting from federal government policies threatens to negatively impact state-licensed residential facilities, including those that serve Texas children in foster care”, Abbott had further stated in the order.

Drawing the Line

HHS deputy general counsel and lawyer— Paul Rodriguez, had sent a letter to the Republican Governor on Monday. The letter stated that such a move would breach the supremacy clause of the US constitution, which posits that federal law supersedes state law.

Migrant children peres daily
The federal response comes after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered last week that Texas child care regulators revoke the licenses of state-licensed facilities that house migrant children in Texas

The US law as regards child migration requires migrant children that cross the border unaccompanied, to be transferred out of Customs and Border protection facilities and unto the care of the HHS’ office of refugee resettlement within the space of 3 days.

Rodriguez says in the letter; “ORR operates 52 state-licensed facilities in Texas, which comprise a significant portion of ORR’s total operational footprint, and represent an indispensable component of the Federal immigration system. “If interpreted to reach ORR’s network of grantee-facilities in Texas, the May 31 Proclamation would be a direct attack on this system.

An increase of unaccompanied immigrant children

Biden’s administration has been struggling to care for children. This is because the number of unaccompanied children in government care has skyrocketed to groundbreaking levels since earlier this year.

State data reveals that the state-licensed shelters collectively house about 8600 children, while intake centers unlicensed by the state currently house more immigrant children in the state, and have seen exponential growth in recent times. In comparison, state data shows that the population in Texas licensed agencies has remained relatively stagnant.

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family and Protective services— Patrick Crimmins, said that unaccompanied immigrant children don’t enter the state’s foster care system directly. Furthermore, he said that they would only be in the system if they had been removed from family members with whom federal employees placed them.

There are no children in foster care simply because they are unaccompanied minors. Children are only in foster care because of abuse or neglect that is reported to us and investigated by us”, Crimmins said.

A cause for concern

Abbott’s order has raised concerns. It would require federal officials to move children from previous shelters in Texas, to unsuitable and unlicensed shelter facilities

HHS has successfully collaborated with other state governments and welcomes the opportunity to work with Texas to address issues of concern. “Although we prefer to resolve this matter amicably, in light of the legal issues outlined above, HHS is consulting the U.S. Department of Justice and intends to pursue whatever appropriate legal action is necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the vulnerable youth that Congress entrusted to ORR“, the letter further says.

Rodriguez gave Texas till Friday to ascertain if the state authorities plan to go ahead with the governor’s order.

Since Abbott’s order instructed officials to terminate the licenses of child-migrant facilities in the US unlawfully, Rodriguez strongly referenced in his letter that the US government does not reckon children in ORR care to be unlawfully present under immigration law.

Policy director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights— Jennifer Nagda, sees Abbott’s order as a medium to settle political scores. “Children should never be made pawns in political fights. And there should be no debate about guaranteeing that every child who arrives at our border is recognized and treated as a child,” Nagda stated in a written statement. “That means access to safe care, family reunification, and a fair legal process”, she concluded.