The state of Texas has sued the federal government more times than I can count in recent years. There may be examples of the reverse happening, but offhand I can’t think of any. As such, this may be a first.
The Biden administration is threatening to sue Texas over its plans to stop state-licensed facilities that are contracted with the federal government from housing migrant children, with a federal attorney calling the state’s move a “direct attack” on federal refugee resettlement efforts.
The federal response comes after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered last week that Texas child care regulators revoke the licenses of state-licensed facilities that house migrant children. The move, the latest by the Republican governor as he spars with President Joe Biden over immigration policies, would force the facilities to stop serving unaccompanied minors or lose their license to serve any children.
Texas officials have already begun instructing the 52 state-licensed facilities serving migrant children to wind down operations by Aug. 30, following Abbott’s order, according to a notice sent to shelters by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
In a letter sent Monday to Abbott and other Texas officials, Paul Rodriguez, a top attorney for the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said Texas’ move violates the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which says federal law supersedes state laws. He asked the recipients to clarify whether they intended that the order be applied to those shelters, which are overseen by HHS and its refugee resettlement branch, the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
He wrote that the federally contracted shelters “comprise a significant portion of ORR’s total operational footprint, and represent an indispensable component of the Federal immigration system.”
If Abbott’s May 31 order includes those ORR facilities, it “would be a direct attack on this system,” Rodriguez said in the letter. He gave the state until Friday to clarify whether the order will affect those facilities.
If so, he said legal action could follow.
The governor’s office did not respond to questions about the potential relocation of children who are housed in the state-licensed shelters or whether the state was considering backing down on its order in light of the HHS letter.
Abbott pointed to the state’s foster care capacity woes as one of the reasons for his order. Hundreds of foster children have spent nights in hotels, community organizations or Child Protective Services offices because there weren’t enough suitable placements as dozens of foster care providers relinquished their contracts with the state due largely to higher scrutiny on the system.
“The unabated influx of individuals resulting from federal government policies threatens to negatively impact state-licensed residential facilities, including those that serve Texas children in foster care,” Abbott wrote in the order.
Only 134 migrant children were housed in federally contracted Texas facilities that also serve foster children as of May 10, according to the data gathered by the Associated Press.
Patrick Crimmins, a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokesperson, said unaccompanied immigrant children don’t enter the state’s foster care system directly. They would only be in the system if they had to be removed from family members with whom federal employees placed them.
“There are no children in foster care simply because they are an unaccompanied minor. Children are only in foster care because of abuse or neglect that is reported to us and investigated by us,” Crimmins said.
Asked how Abbott’s order might affect the foster system’s placement shortages, Crimmins replied, “We don’t know that yet.”
Abbott’s claim is that the feds have foisted an unfunded mandate on Texas, which strikes me as a perennial complaint that is made whenever it’s convenient. It’s also a little rich given the recent “certain cities can never spend less money on the police” legislation. This is a political squabble more than anything, though with the higher stakes of having a direct effect on some number of children. Putting those very real effects aside for a moment, the political fight will turn on the question of who gets blamed for any harm that results to these children. (Yes, I know exactly how awful that sounds.) We have one possible data point from this Chron story:
Texans back President Joe Biden’s approach to immigration over Gov. Greg Abbott’s by nearly 10 percentage points, according to a new poll released as the clash between the governor and Biden administration over border policy continues to escalate.
The poll, conducted at the end of May, found 44 percent of Texans approve of Biden’s handling of immigration compared to 35 percent who approve of Abbott’s. The online poll of 506 Texas residents was conducted by Spectrum News and Ipsos and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.
The poll link appears to be broken. I’d be dubious of it even if I could inspect it, as Biden has generally polled worse on immigration and the border than he has overall. It’s also one poll result, with all the usual caveats. That said, if this comes down to video images of possibly crying children being relocated, even if it’s just from one shelter to another, “Abbott gave the order to close the shelters” will outweigh “Abbott blames Biden for not giving the state enough money for the children in the shelters”. I could be wrong about that, of course, and if it turns into litigation I suspect a judge would step in and halt any closures for the time being, until the legal questions can get sorted out. I suspect Abbott knows that part as well, so again this comes back to being a partisan fight. Abbott doesn’t generally back down from those when he’s opposite the feds. Expect this to take awhile to come to a resolution. Daily Kos has more.