Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, and the Biden administration are at odds over the governor’s plan to close state shelters being used to house about 4,500 unaccompanied migrant children, Politico reported Monday.
Abbott and the Department of Health and Human Services this month have exchanged “tense” letters, obtained by Politico, that show Abbott being defiant to President Joe Biden’s immigration and border policies.
“The federal government must solve the federal problem caused by the Biden administration’s disastrous open-border policies,” Abbott wrote in a recent letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, according to Politico. “Texas will not be commandeered into federal government service.”
The governor, considered a potential 2024 presidential or vice presidential GOP contender, plans to revoke the licenses of any shelter that continues to serve migrant kids beginning Aug. 31.
News of the contentiousness between Abbott and HHS comes two days before the governor joins former President Donald Trump in a visit to the southern border to see the immigration crisis firsthand.
Abbott’s plan could upend the administration’s refugee resettlement effort and has left federal health officials threatening to sue, according to Politico.
HHS told Politico that Deputy General Counsel Paul Rodriguez was awaiting a response from sent Abbott and other Texas officials to more than two dozen questions seeking specifics on how the order would be implemented.
“We are exploring our options, for the sake of protecting the safety and well-being of unaccompanied children at licensed facilities in Texas,” a spokesperson told Pollitico.
Some legal experts said Abbott’s order would be challenged legally as soon as it takes effect.
“At the most basic level, states aren’t allowed to discriminate against federal contractors,” Spencer Amdur, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, told Politico. “They also can’t obstruct in any way the federal government’s ability to work with private entities.”
Fifty-two shelters would be forced to stop care for unaccompanied minors or be stripped of the licenses needed to remain open, according to Abbott’s directive.
More than a quarter of the entire U.S. population of migrant children would be affected.
Texas hasn’t offered housing alternatives, which Abbott insists is HHS’ responsibility, Politico reported.
Former officials and advocates for the unaccompanied minors told Politico that if the Texas order takes effect, thousands of children could be scattered to shelters around the country. Possible locations to where migrants could be moved include emergency facilities constructed on military bases and convention centers that have faced scrutiny from both Republicans and Democrats over their conditions.
Politico said Abbott, in his most recent letter to Becerra, cited the emergency facilities as justification for withdrawing all state-level support. The governor argued that Texas shouldn’t also have to offer its own licensed facilities.
“The federal government cannot force a state to do the federal government’s job,” he wrote.
Texas isn’t the only state pushing back on Biden’s policies. Several other Republican-led states have declined to aid HHS’ months-long effort to arrange housing and services for tens of thousands of migrant children.
The Lone Star State, however, has taken the most glaring step to separate itself from the federal program that relies on state-licensed organizations to shelter migrant children until they can be placed with guardians.
On June 2, Axios reported Abbott issued a disaster declaration that directs state child-care regulators to “take all necessary steps” to deny or discontinue within 90 days state licenses for any facilities that house migrant children.
Earlier this month, Abbott announced Texas was putting $1 billion in its budget to strengthen border security because the federal government, under Biden, has failed to do so. That money includes funds to go toward completing the building a border wall.
“[Texas is] doing more than any other state has ever done to respond to these challenges along the border,” Abbott said.
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