Dozens of facilities in Texas where the federal government holds unaccompanied children until they can be safely placed with a sponsor will be forced to operate without state licenses beginning within hours, under an executive order issued by right-wing Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year. In a letter calling on him to revoke the order, 70 child welfare organizations said his despicable proclamation stands to put thousands of kids “at risk of harm.”
“The 70 organizations signed onto the letter believe that every child should be cared for in a way that preserves their health, safety, and dignity—no matter who they are or where they come from,” First Focus on Children said in a statement received by Daily Kos. The organization said that the state accounts for roughly half of all beds for these already vulnerable children. “The organizations are speaking out now against the Texas proclamation and will continue to speak up any time lawmakers promote policies that threaten to harm children.”
Abbott had initially sought to completely shut down these facilities, ultimately prevented by an emergency rule that keeps them operational past Aug. 30, CBS News reported earlier this month. But these facilities will be running without state oversight, “a prospect that has alarmed advocates for migrant children,” the report said. That now includes the 70 organizations in the letter, including two dozen from the state.
“Currently, Texas is home to approximately half of the placements for unaccompanied children in government custody,” they tell Abbott. “Children often develop relationships with care provider staff, particularly case managers who are facilitating their reunification with family. If the State of Texas revokes licenses from facilities helping children, those children may be moved to other placements, which is deeply disruptive for children who have already been displaced from their home communities and are adjusting to a new life in the United States.
“Licensing standards also provide benchmarks for the state’s continued evaluation of a facility’s compliance with legal requirements for children’s well-being,” the letter continues. “When children are in unlicensed facilities, the lack of licensing safeguards may result in threats to their health and safety, such as insufficient staffing levels, inappropriate staff, inadequate services, harmful disciplinary actions, and risks of physical/sexual abuse and trafficking. Indeed, there has been documentation of such harms to children in unlicensed facilities.” Just this month, the Biden administration has been faced with the lawsuit over the treatment of children at two unlicensed camps.
“Ultimately, children deserve to be safe and cared for in licensed facilities,” the organizations continue in the letter. Abbott knows that perfectly well, but he’s willing to sacrifice their safety as part of his shameless politicking. Meanwhile, for months the Biden administration has been hinting at legal action in response to Abbott’s order. “But despite its threat to pursue legal action, the administration has not filed a lawsuit against the Texas governor,” CBS News reported earlier this month.
"What happens if children are abused by a staff member at one of these shelters?" noted National Center for Youth Law attorney Leecia Welch to CBS News. "What happens if children are denied adequate food or medical care or worse at these shelters? There will apparently be no state licensing authority to call for help." In the statement received by Daily Kos, American Academy of Pediatrics President Lee Savio Beers said that “[r]evoking state licensure of residential facilities for unaccompanied children puts their health and safety at risk.
“These children arrive at our border having experienced unspeakable trauma in their home countries and on their journey to the United States, and had no choice but to flee to safety,” Savio Beers continued. “Immigrant children are simply children, and they deserve to be cared for at facilities able to meet their physical and mental health needs.” Advocates have long said that when children cannot be immediately placed with a sponsor, small-scale, home-like settings are most appropriate. The fact is that Abbott is working to deny them any licensed care at all, period.
“It is important that the impact of this order on children be front and center,“ First Focus on Children Senior Director for Immigration and Children’s Rights Miriam Abaya said. “Instead of doing more to help address the trauma that these children have experienced, his order undermines the very systems that we have put in place to care for them,” Children’s Defense Fund Texas Office Executive Director Patrick Bresette said. “Harm to children should never be tolerated. All children, regardless of their immigration status, deserve our care and protection.”