Biden admin threatens Texas with legal action over governor’s order to close migrant detention facilities

The Biden administration has threatened to take legal action against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after he ordered federally-funded detention centers for migrant children who were brought illegally into the U.S. to close.

In a Monday letter that was leaked to The Associated Press, Paul Rodriguez, the deputy general counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services said despite the fact that Texas issues licenses for the shelters to operate, he is authorized by Congress to take care of the unaccompanied migrant children.

Rodriguez warned the Republican governor to rescind his order and to not interfere with the operations of the centers or face legal action for shuttering them.

“(The Office of Refugee Resettlement) operates 52 state-licensed facilities in Texas, which comprise a significant portion of ORR’s total operational footprint, and represent an indispensable component of the federal immigration system,” Rodriguez wrote to Abbott and two other officials, the AP reported. Such a “proclamation would be a direct attack on this system,” Rodriguez added.

The deputy counsel instructed Abbott to notify him by June 11 if the governor’s declaration last week applies to the 52 shelters currently licensed throughout the Lone Star State but which are funded with federal money. Rodriguez also said that under current federal law, migrant children “do not accrue unlawful presence” while residing inside the country in pushing back against Abbott’s claim they are “unlawful immigrants.”

The AP noted that more than half of migrant children that are currently being held by the federal government are residing in Texas. Last month, federal agencies reported that 4,223 migrant children out of roughly 7,000 in U.S. government custody are in Texas shelters.

“Experts and advocates say shutting down these shelters could seriously disrupt the program for unaccompanied children, which already faces capacity problems forcing the government to open up a dozen emergency sites to process thousands of children,” the AP reported.

Axios noted last week that Abbott’s May 31 order to close the centers is linked to a disaster declaration he signed.

“The Biden administration’s immigration policies are failing Texans, causing a humanitarian crisis in many Texas communities along the border,” Abbott said in the order, adding the “surge of individuals” across the border “poses an ongoing and imminent threat” to state residents.

He added that the migrant child crisis is taking resources away from the state’s foster care system.

“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,” Abbott noted.

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services has already notified the 52 centers 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.”

At the time, HHS officials said the department had no plans to close any of the facilities, thereby setting up a legal battle with Abbott if he follows through with closing them after 90 days.

“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, ” said department spokeswoman Sarah Lovenheim.

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Jon Dougherty

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