DALLAS — The Texas Health and Human Services Commission said it is reviewing Gov. Greg Abbott's disaster proclamation which affects Texas child or family care facilities that house teen migrants under federal contracts. The facilities must "wind down" operations by the end of August or they could lose their license with the state, according to the commission.
On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration in response to what he called the "border crisis." Under the declaration, Abbott is authorizing the use of "all necessary and available state and local resources" in response to an influx of illegal border crossings at the Texas-Mexico border.
Abbott's declaration affects child care and family care facilities that have contracts with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to house teen migrants.
Those care facilities that are under a federal contract for teen migrants must "wind down" those operations by Aug. 30, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (THHSC) said. If they don't, then the declaration tells THHSC to stop the state licensure of those facilities.
Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Sarah Lovenheim tweeted that HHS "does not intend to close any facilities as a result of the order."
In March, Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Downtown Dallas began serving as an emergency intake site for unaccompanied teen migrants, and, at one point, housed up to 3,000 teens. As of May 20, there were about 118 teens, according to HHS. The convention center's contract with the department was set to expire on June 2. HHS has not confirmed to WFAA when operations officially ceased at the facility.
The ORR provides care and custody of unaccompanied children until they are unified with an appropriate sponsor - usually, a parent or relative - while their immigration cases proceed, the Department of Health and Human Services said.
"If there are teens [at Kay Bailey] who have not been unified with a sponsor when it is time to close, they will be relocated to another appropriate facility in ORR’s network," said the Office of Communications at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in an email. "We anticipate that a majority of teens will be unified with their sponsors before the end of May."
Kate Huddleston, attorney at the ACLU of Texas, accused Abbott of trying to incite fear with the declaration, and said it could lead to life-threatening consequences for the children. She said his efforts are undermining the efforts of the federal government.
“Caring for vulnerable children should be paramount to the state of Texas. Yet, Gov. Greg Abbott is engaging in another effort to distract from the real problems facing Texas by scapegoating immigrants and sacrificing the well-being of vulnerable children," Huddleston said in a statement.
The state commission (THHSC) said it will determine the next steps "as we plan for fully implementing the Governor's direction," it said Tuesday.
There are currently 52 state-licensed general residential operations and child-placing agencies that contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement in Texas.
The child care facilities that contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement are in the cities of Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Grand Prairie, El Paso, Fort Worth, McAllen and others.
Abbott is also directing the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to "provide appropriate guidance and request any necessary waivers" to give counties flexibility to "establish adequate alternative detention facilities or otherwise add or expand capacity."