“While it now appears that Texas shelters for immigrant children will not be forced to close their doors, we remain concerned about the impact de-licensing these shelters could have on children’s safety and well-being,” National Center for Youth Law attorney Leecia Welch told CBS News. According to the report, at least three dozen facilities in the state could be set to operate without licenses.
“What happens if children are abused by a staff member at one of these shelters? What happens if children are denied adequate food or medical care or worse at these shelters? There will apparently be no state licensing authority to call for help,” Welch continued. “This is directly the fault of Greg Abbott, who signed an executive order months ago telling the Texas DHHS to strip licenses from all shelters caring for migrant children—supposedly because he was concerned for stories of their treatment in, get this, *unlicensed* facilities,” tweeted American Immigration Council policy counsel Aaron Reichlin-Melnick.
Recent horrific reports—and common sense—show the dangers of housing children in unlicensed sites. Last month alone, whistleblowers filed two reports exposing unsanitary and dangerous conditions at the Fort Bliss camp near El Paso. Two of them alleged they were instructed to downplay a COVID-19 outbreak at the camp. Per NBC News, hundreds of kids may have been sick. Because the federal government opened the camp as an “emergency” facility, it’s also unlicensed. Just days ago, the HHS watchdog announced it would be opening a probe into the site.
“The Biden administration has acknowledged that it ‘may be unable to meet the requirements’ of the Flores Agreement if Abbott’s proclamation takes effect,” CBS News reported. The decades-old court settlement protects vulnerable migrant children who are in U.S. custody. “But despite its threat to pursue legal action, the administration has not filed a lawsuit against the Texas governor,” the report continued.
It’s unclear why the Biden administration has not yet filed legal action against Texas. The federal government sued when Abbott issued a separate order seeking to stop and even confiscate the vehicles of civilian and contractors suspected to be transported migrants who have recently crossed into the U.S. A federal judge last week put a temporary halt to the order, ruling it caused “irreparable injury to the United States.” Per CBS News, the emergency action that would allow Texas facilities to operate without licenses is itself temporary. Advocates have worried that Abbott’s targeting of facilities sheltering children could result in children having to stay in harmful Customs and Border Protection sites for longer periods of time, or being sent to Fort Bliss-type camps.
“De-licensing Texas shelters poses undue threats to children’s safety in federal custody. This is unacceptable—every child should have access to care,” tweeted Families Belong Together. Remember this crisis facing children seeking safety and protection in the U.S. is completely unnecessary, because Greg Abbott is choosing to target them. “Children should not be put in harm’s way to score political points,” tweeted the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. “Governor Abbott should do better.”