Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott isn’t remotely close to finished when it comes to using vulnerable asylum-seeking children as his political pawns. Just weeks after being called out on Fox News of all places for his silence during the past four years of anti-immigrant abuses under the previous president, Abbott has ordered that state facilities that hold unaccompanied children until they can be safely placed with a sponsor to shut down, The Dallas Morning News reported.
Should Abbott’s plan go forward, immigrant rights advocacy group America’s Voice said that as many as 4,000 children in Texas who are in facilities contracted with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could be displaced. In response to Abbott’s threat, the Biden administration on Monday said that it would be prepared to sue. “In a letter sent to Abbott on Monday, Paul Rodriguez, a top HHS lawyer, said such a move would violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which dictates that federal law supersedes state laws,” CBS News reports.
Making Abbott’s trolling all the worse is that it appears to threaten to return vulnerable children back to dangerous conditions. When capacity limits at HHS-licensed facilities earlier this year resulted in the prolonged detention of kids in unsuitable Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities, the Biden administration opened a number of emergency sites to hold children while officials vetted sponsors. Advocates have similarly criticized these temporary facilities because they lack the same licensing as contracted facilities.
But under Abbott’s order, more children could end up in these very temporary sites all over again. “Unlike the traditional shelters, the emergency facilities are not licensed by state authorities and would not be affected by Abbott's directive,” CBS News reported. “Advocates have expressed concern that Abbott's order could prompt federal officials to transfer children from traditional shelters in Texas to the unlicensed emergency facilities, which include repurposed military bases, work camps and convention centers.”
Advocates have urged the use of these temporary camps only as a last resort, and that children be held there for as brief a time as possible. This should also be true for licensed facilities. But Abbott’s move to shut down facilities in the state could also raise the risk of children ending up in prolonged CBP detention again. Under law, they’re supposed to be transferred from CBP to HHS within 72 hours. But thousands of children have been detained for days past this legal limit, in border facilities that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas himself has said “is no place for a child.”
“This news comes as no surprise,” America’s Voice said. “Governor Abbott—who Trump just endorsed for reelection yesterday—has repeatedly inflamed immigration issues to appeal to white grievance voters.” Mario Carrillo, the organization’s Texas-based campaign manager, slammed Abbott’s games, saying “[t]his political ploy will only further endanger children who are already fleeing dangerous situations in their home country.” In the days since Abbott’s threat, leading voices ranging from refugee rights to a top elected official have also condemned the Republican.
“This is a transparent and troubling ploy to politicize a humanitarian crisis,” Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service President Krish O’Mara Vignarajah said according to The Washington Post. “Because Texas-based shelters comprise a significant portion of U.S. capacity, this order could do real damage, and to the serious detriment of children’s well-being.” In a Twitter thread, RAICES said, “Abbott is using facilities housing migrant children as a diversion from his terrible governing. If he cared about children in TX then he would spend money on child welfare rather than pouring tons of $ into an unnecessary armed response at the border to children seeking asylum.
”Migrant children are already in a precarious situation and should not be used as political pawns to advance Abbott’s right-wing agenda,” RAICES continued. In her tweet, El Paso Rep. Veronica Escobar wrote Abbott has decided “to cement his legacy as a wanna-be-Trump-clone for whom the cruelty is the point. Can Texas Republicans sink any lower than attacking vulnerable children?”