AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A move by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to shutter more than 50 shelters housing about 4,000 migrant children could seriously disrupt a national program that already faces strained capacity to properly care for minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border alone.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which cares for migrant children, said Wednesday that it did not intend to close any facilities but that it was “assessing” the Republican governor’s late Tuesday disaster declaration. The proclamation directs a state agency to deny or discontinue within 90 days licenses for child care facilities sheltering migrant children.
Groups that represent migrant children and reunite them with their families said the order could be harmful because it may mean more minors are sent to mass-scale, unlicensed facilities that attorneys and advocates say endanger their health and safety. Abbott argues that the federal government can’t force Texas to keep issuing state licenses in response to a federal problem.
The U.S. government funds 56 shelters in Texas, out of about 200 licensed shelters in the country. The last census taken on May 19 showed 4,223 children in 52 of those state-licensed shelters, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
The agency was directed to remove the licenses and sent a notice to providers Wednesday telling them to wind down operations by Aug. 30.
After that date, it says, “if you are still providing care for individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States under a contract with the federal government, HHSC will take necessary steps to comply with the proclamation.”
The highly unusual move to order a disaster declaration — usually reserved for natural disasters or health crises — comes amid Abbott’s criticism of record numbers of border crossings in recent months. He has increased the presence of the Texas Department of Public Safety and National Guard in south Texas.
By Adriana Gomez Licon and Acacia Coronado for THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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