Abbott Executive Order Puts Federal Childcare Partners on Notice to Stop Housing Migrant Children

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Dozens of childcare agencies partnering in Texas with the federal government could soon stop housing unaccompanied migrant children.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has put 52 child-care facilities that have partnered with the federal government to house migrant children on notice, they have until the end of August to wind down operations.

The move is the result of an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott late Tuesday afternoon that takes state licensing away from facilities, including foster homes, that are caring for thousands of migrant children in the U.S.

Before migrant children who have journeyed from their home countries are reunited with family in the U.S., most spend time in federal detention centers and emergency shelters.

More than 4,200 migrant children have also been in foster care.

Abbott directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to remove state licensing for any childcare facility that, in partnership with the federal government, is currently housing or wants to house undocumented children.

The governor asserted that "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."

The governor is also directing HHSC to "to deny license application for any new child-care facility" wanting to shelter these minors and to not "renew any existing such licenses" for current providers.

There are currently 52 agencies in Texas that have partnered with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, including three in North Texas.

A facility in Grand Prairie is housing 10 migrant children and two agencies in Fort Worth are housing 23 children in all, according to figures released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

These partners have 90 days to "wind down" operations involving housing undocumented children or have their license removed.

“It’s closing the door on many of us who want to foster and offer support to these young children who are escaping poverty, escaping gangs,” said Ana Coca of the Grand Prairie chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.

Advocates push back on the governor’s claim that the influx of young migrants threatens Texas children currently in foster care.

“It’s important that they are in a home,” Coca said. “In a bed, surrounded by family who are there to help them instead of being a prison or four walls or in a location like Fort Bliss surrounded by military who are doing their best, but at the same time it’s not a home.”

Rene Martinez of the Dallas chapter of LULAC is concerned more than 4,200 migrant children currently housed in the 52 facilities will simply be returned to large detention centers run by the federal government, shelters that most advocates deem "unsuitable" for children.

“I think it’s purely political on the part of the governor,” Martinez said. “The governor is insensitive. He doesn’t care about children.”

A political and legal fight over the influx of migrants at the Southern border is heating up between Abbott and the federal government. Advocates expect legal action will be taken to stop the governor's executive order.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services tweeted that "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."

However, late Wednesday afternoon a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission told NBC 5 "HHSC is reviewing the Governor’s disaster proclamation and determining next steps as we plan for fully implementing the Governor’s direction."

The state agency released a notice to the 52 agencies partnering with the federal government, stating that "by August 30, 2021, you must wind down any operations at your child-care facility that provide care under a federal contract to individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States."

This includes residential operations and child placing agencies under federal contract.

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