State Watch

HHS threatens to sue over Texas governor’s move on shelters for migrant children

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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is threatening to sue Texas over a declaration from the governor that called for discontinuing state licenses of child care facilities that house migrant children.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) last week directed the state Health and Human Services Commission to “take all necessary steps” to terminate child welfare shelters under contract with the federal government that shelter or detain “unlawful immigrants” within 90 days.

Texas has 52 of those shelters, according to The Wall Street Journal, which house about 5,000 children.

In a letter to Texas officials on Monday, HHS Deputy General Counsel Paul Rodriguez argued that Abbott’s proclamation would go against the federal government’s jurisdiction over matters of immigration.

Rodriguez said the department “intends to pursue whatever appropriate legal action necessary” to protect the migrant children.

“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 [the Office of Refugee Resettlement] ORR,” Rodriguez wrote.

In a statement to The Hill, Abbott said 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. President Biden’s reckless open border policies created this humanitarian crisis and led to a 20-year record-high of migrants crossing our southern border, so it is the Biden Administration’s responsibility to care for them,” Abbott continued.

“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,” he added.

The federal government is in charge of caring for unaccompanied migrant children in state-licensed shelters until an adult guardian is found to care for them.

However, if state licenses are terminated, immigrant and child welfare advocates say the government could be forced to house the migrant children in an unlicensed emergency facility where the standards of care are usually lower.

The feud between HHS and Abbott comes as the Biden administration continues to grapple with a surge of unaccompanied underage migrants at the southern border.

The White House has faced backlash from both parties for its handling of the increase in migrants, mainly for the poor facilities the immigrants were housed in, the Journal noted.

The administration, however, has been making progress in its goal of reuniting families that were separated by former President Trump’s immigration policies.

On Tuesday, the Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families announced that nearly 4,000 children separated during the previous administration have been identified.

–Updated at 3:26 p.m.

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