Or, if you’re Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), it means going after migrant children to show your Trumpian bona fides.
Politico reports that a battle is escalating between Abbott and the Biden administration over the housing of migrant kids and teens in Health and Human Services shelters in Texas. Abbott is on the verge of stripping state licenses from dozens of shelters if they continue to house the migrant kids, a move that could impact thousands of children.
To be clear, Abbott wants to shut down private child-care facilities that are licensed by the state, but also have contracts with the federal government to house immigrant children.
On a conference call with reporters Monday, HHS secretary Xavier Becerra shared new details that underscore the folly and malevolence of Abbott’s effort. Becerra noted that overall there are now more migrant children being held in licensed facilities overseen by HHS, as opposed to emergency intake shelters.
That’s a turnaround from a month ago, Becerra said, when there were “more kids in these emergency intake sites than we had in licensed facilities.”
Within the awful context of this situation, that’s a small success. As you’ll recall, the administration had to divert kids to emergency intake shelters to deal with the crush of arrivals, because they had overwhelmed licensed facilities.
Unaccompanied minors are initially held at Border Patrol stations, after which they’re transferred to HHS facilities, where they await placement with a family member or sponsor in the U.S. Emergency intake shelters are strongly opposed by advocates, because they tend to have far worse conditions: Indeed, the Fort Bliss intake shelter in El Paso, has come under intense scrutiny for failing the kids in terrible ways.
But the administration — having decided to let in children whereas the Trump administration expelled them until a court halted the practice — temporarily had little choice. The law requires HHS to temporarily hold the kids, and releasing them alone would be deeply inhumane anyway.
Since then, the administration has rushed to expand the number of licensed facilities, and the fact that more kids are now being held at them represents a small humanitarian advance.
Indeed, as Becerra told reporters, the number of migrant kids held at the Fort Bliss emergency intake center has dropped to 790 from around 4,800 two months ago. (An HHS official confirms to us that the vast majority of these were transferred to family members or sponsors.)
But if Abbott gets his way, that small advance will be undone. That’s because, as advocates fear, if kids currently in licensed facilities in Texas are expelled, they will likely be transferred elsewhere, and will likely end up in unlicensed ones.
“Shutting down state-licensed shelters would reverse the progress the administration has made and could force them to transfer thousands of children back to emergency shelters,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, told us.
As Reichlin-Melnick points out, a large percentage of HHS’s licensed facilities are in Texas. So if they’re closed, that will leave far fewer elsewhere, likely forcing the diversion of kids to unlicensed facilities.
What makes this stranger is the policy argument underlying this dispute. Republicans like Abbott blame Biden’s policies for creating the influx of migrant kids. But all this really means is that Republicans think then-President Donald Trump’s effort to expel the kids was the correct policy, never mind that they’re arriving in the first place because they’re fleeing horrific conditions in Central America.
“Expelling unaccompanied children at the border again” would “send thousands of children back into the hands of the gangs they are fleeing from,” Reichlin-Melnick told us.
Abbott has insisted he’s taking this step because the federal government supposedly “commandeered” Texas into housing migrant kids. Of course, no one is “commandeering” Texas into anything — these private facilities are voluntarily contracting with the federal government.
The Biden administration has informed Abbott that stripping the licenses of facilities housing the kids may be unconstitutional, and is preparing to take whatever legal action it can to stop it.
Whatever happens in this conflict, if Abbott runs for president, he won’t have to worry that his primary opponents will accuse him of being cruel to immigrant kids. In fact, they’ll probably vow to be even harsher than he is, and the GOP primary electorate will eat it up.
But the general electorate is a very different story. Republicans are facing some of their biggest challenges among moderate voters in the suburbs, for whom stories of a candidate shutting down facilities for immigrant children might not be particularly appealing.