Texas health officials on Wednesday sent notices to 46 state-licensed shelters housing thousands of unaccompanied migrant kids across the state, asking them to “wind down” operations by Aug. 30 in response to an emergency declaration from Gov. Greg Abbott.
Notices were sent out following an order by Abbott directing the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to “discontinue state licensing of any child-care facility in this state that shelters or detains unlawful immigrants”, as part of a border emergency declaration earlier this week.
Texas’ state-licensed shelters — which must comply with both Texas and federal standards — have some of the most stringent requirements for the care of migrant children and teen shelters nationwide.
In response to the order, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a statement, saying they are assessing the governor’s directive and “do not intend to close any facilities as a result of the order.”
HHS’s top priority is the health and safety of the children in our care. We are assessing the Texas directive concerning licensed facilities providing care to unaccompanied children and do not intend to close any facilities as a result of the order.
— Sarah Lovenheim (@HHS_Spox) June 2, 2021
If carried through, the order would close down state-licensed facilities that currently provide beds for some 4,200 migrant children and teens, according to data from mid-May, provided to Houston Public Media by Texas Health and Human Services.
That’s nearly one fourth of the nearly 17,000 kids Health and Human Services said are currently in federal custody. These are children and teens who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border without a legal guardian and are being processed and cared for by the federal government as they reunite the kids with family living in the United States.
Taking away that Texas shelter space would lead to more migrant kids in the federal government’s emergency shelters, some of which have been criticized for their poor standards of care.
Mark Greenberg, who led the Health and Human Services Administration for Families and Children under the Obama administration, said closing shelters would put another strain on an already overwhelmed government process of reuniting migrant kids with family members.
“It would greatly reduce the availability of licensed care for children, increase the number of children that would need to be in unlicensed, emergency facilities and be tremendously disruptive of efforts to provide services to children and get them to their families or other relatives,” Greenberg said.
“These kids deserve better,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), which provides legal support to migrant children and teens. In a written statement, Young argued that there need to be more state-licensed shelters for kids, not fewer.
State-licensed facilities in Texas have some of the best national standards for care, while federal emergency shelters do not have to meet the same requirements.
In a recent report, the bipartisan think tank Children’s Equity Project found that Texas was among the states with the highest standards for protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of migrant children in federal custody.
In a written statement, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC) director Zenobia Lai argued that the disaster proclamation by Abbott makes the humanitarian situation at the border worse.
“By directing the State’s Health and Human Services Commission to discontinue state license of facilities housing immigrant children, he is punishing these children by prolonging their stay in the crowded, freezing, and unsafe Customs and Border Protection facilities and delaying their reunification with their families in the U.S.,” Lai said.
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