“The federal government must resolve the federal problem caused by the disastrous policies of the Biden administration,” Abbott wrote recently in a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Texas will not be drafted into the federal service.”
Officials in several other GOP-led states have declined to support HHS’s month-long efforts to provide shelter and services for tens of thousands of migrant children in government care, privately rejecting government calls for help and, in some cases, publicly criticizing the possibility of being unaccompanied Children entering their states.
But the Texas ruling represents the most drastic attempt by any state to detach itself from a longstanding federal program that relies on state-licensed organizations to house migrant children until they can be placed with guardians. HHS has accused Abbott of a “direct attack” on government efforts to deal with the record number of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border and said it is consulting with the Justice Department on legal action.
Abbott’s plan would force 52 shelters across the state to cease caring for unaccompanied minors or withdraw the licenses currently required to open them.
That would leave more than a quarter of the country’s entire population of migrant children without a place to live. Texas has not offered any alternative housing, and Abbott insists that it is HHS ‘responsibility.
He has also vowed to build a border wall between the US and Mexico, boasting earlier this month that Texas is “doing more than any other state that has ever done to respond to these border challenges”.
HHS said it is still awaiting an answer to more than two dozen questions Deputy General Counsel Paul Rodriguez sent to Abbott and other Texas officials for details on how the order would be implemented.
“We are reviewing our options to protect the safety and well-being of unaccompanied children in licensed facilities in Texas,” a spokesman said.
Abbott’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Thousands of children could be scattered in shelters across the country if the Texan order goes into effect, said former officials and lawyers for the unaccompanied minors. And with the government already struggling to cope with the influx of children, those targets would likely be emergency facilities set up on military bases and convention centers whose conditions have been scrutinized by both Republicans and Democrats.
“It’s very hard to see what has been achieved,” said Mark Greenberg, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute who led HHS administration for children and families while the Obama administration. “There is widespread agreement that it is good for children to be in licensed facilities – that are regulated and monitored – and these efforts only make it more difficult.”
Abbott previously criticized the emergency locations HHS rushed to open in response to the surge in border arrivals, calling a Texas shelter “a health and safety nightmare” just two and a half months ago.
But in his most recent letter to Becerra, Abbott cited the emergency facilities as a justification for the withdrawal of all government support, arguing that Texas should not also offer its own licensed facilities.
“The federal government cannot force a state to fulfill the role of the federal government,” he wrote.
HHS has warned Abbott that its order appears to violate various federal laws, a view shared by legal experts who said it is guaranteed to be challenged in court once it goes into effect.
“In principle, states are not allowed to discriminate against federal contractors,” said Spencer Amdur, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants ‘Rights Project. “Nor can they in any way hinder the federal government’s ability to work with private companies.”
Still, the Texas order has created confusion among organizations that operate shelters that rely solely on contracts with the federal government to care for unaccompanied children and that are now required to devise a relapse plan within weeks.
State officials also have fought with how to enforce Abbott’s order, which provided no specific guidance on implementation and little justification, aside from criticizing the Biden administration for its “failure to secure the border.”
Abbott denied the appointment in a June 11 letter to Becerra would lead to plants being completely closed, just said that they would no longer be licensed by the state. But a notice sent to protection organizations nine days earlier by the Texas health department ordered them to stop all activities related to unaccompanied minors.
A major animal shelter operator, BCFS, has been separately warned by a state health official that it would be fined if it continued to house migrant children beyond Aug. 31, the organization told POLITICO.
A spokesman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission declined to provide details on how Abbott’s order will be enforced, saying the agency is still working on an enforcement process.
Democrats, on the other hand beat Abbott on a political ploy to bolster his standing with the Republican grassroots at the expense of vulnerable children – a move made clearer by Trump’s planned return to the border this week.
“It is obviously very alarming, destructive and very harmful to children in need,” said Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) MP, who hosted Vice President Kamala Harris’ border visit on Friday. “The governor has long since given up governance and is concentrating exclusively on fighting the culture wars.”
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill have also distanced themselves from Abbott’s plan, even if they have enthusiastically received broader criticism of the government’s border policies.
When asked about the prospect of tearing up the licenses of facilities, the Texan GOP representative Dan Crenshaw told POLITICO that he had not looked into it and was not a “state representative”.[resentative]. ”Senator Ted Cruz also said he had not spoken to Abbott about the order and declined to say whether he supported it.
Nonetheless, the confrontation risks engulfing the government in a protracted battle over an immigration challenge that it worked hard to address during the early months of Biden’s presidency.
After the health department reached a record high of almost 23,000 unaccompanied children in federal custody in April, the health department reduced the population to below 15,000. This is a level that is still significantly higher than normal but has made it possible to move more children from emergency facilities to higher quality licensed facilities.
Though it lays the groundwork for a quick legal challenge, officials admitted there is little HHS can do to avert Abbott’s order now before it goes into effect – setting the stage for a protracted clash across the border that will last well into the fall could last.
“Politics is everything,” said Amdur. “I think basically they’re doing this to make the administration look bad.”