AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas and the federal government are trading barbs over Gov. Greg Abbott’s border disaster declaration, the latest installment coming from the Republican Governor who said the federal government caused a humanitarian crisis and should take responsibility for care of migrant children being sheltered in the state.
Abbott’s comments come following President Joe Biden’s administration threatening action over the Governor’s recent disaster declaration. The Governor’s declaration calls on the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to end licenses for child care facilities involved in federal contracts to shelter or detain undocumented immigrants.
“The Biden Administration is yet again pressuring Texas to aid its illegal immigration program and force our state to do its job,” Abbott said in a statement Wednesday. “Commandeering state resources to fulfill the federal government’s responsibility is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.”
“President Biden’s reckless open border policies created this humanitarian crisis and led to a 20-year record-high of migrants crossing our southern border, so it is the Biden Administration’s responsibility to care for them,” Abbott stated. “The federal government caused this problem and should be solely responsible for the care of these children. No child will be uncared for. Texas will remain focused on doing our job—protecting Texans.”
The Republican Governor issued his disaster declaration last week in 34 counties along the state’s border with Mexico. He said it was in response to an “ongoing surge” of illegal immigration being neglected by the federal government.
His order authorizes all available state resources to assist state and local law enforcement to protect Texans from property damage, trespassing, smuggling and human trafficking.
The also order directs the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to work with border counties to expand capacity for detention and tells the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to end licenses for child care facilities involved in federal contracts to shelter or detain undocumented immigrants.
The latter is what prompted the response this week from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Congress has charged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) with responsibility for the care and custody of unaccompanied non-citizen children seeking refuge in the United States,” HHS’ Deputy General Counsel Paul Rodriguez wrote in a letter to Abbott, the Texas Secretary of State’s office and the executive commissioner of Texas HHSC.
The letter asks the state to confirm by Thursday whether Texas intends to apply the proclamation to “ORR’s network of 52 state-licensed grantee care provider facilities operating in Texas, and if so, whether you are willing to grant an exception that would allow ORR’s grantees to retain their licenses subject to the same standards applied to other child-care facilities that are not affiliated with the Federal government.”
“Although we prefer to resolve this matter amicably, in light of the legal issues outlined above, HHS is consulting the U.S. Department of Justice and intends to pursue whatever appropriate legal action is necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the vulnerable youth that Congress entrusted to ORR,” Rodriguez wrote.
Texas HHSC licenses General Residential Operations, according to a Texas HHSC spokesperson. Some of those operations contract with ORR, the spokesperson said.
Texas HHSC notified providers last week with information about the planned cut-off of licensing.
“The federal government has co-opted the state government to be involved in that licensing process, which is commandeering state employees, which is a violation of the United States Constitution,” Abbott said in an interview last week after issuing his disaster declaration but before receiving the HHS letter.
“What the state of Texas is doing is, we’re saying that the federal government cannot commandeer our employees and tell us what to do,” Abbott said. “If the federal government has created a problem on the border that leads to migrant children being in the state is the federal government’s responsibility to take care of those kids.”
The back and forth with the feds comes days before Abbott is slated to host a border security summit on Thursday in Del Rio, Texas. The gathering aims to bring together local landowners, law enforcement and elected officials, as well as state agencies like the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Texas Military Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety, to discuss strategies to secure border communities and “ensure a safer future for all Texans,” according to an advisory.