Texas Catholic Bishops Urge Gov. Abbott Not to Close Ministries Housing Migrant Children

Two Catholic bishops in Texas are calling on Governor Greg Abbott to reverse his state-level executive order to remove licensing from facilities, including foster homes, that are housing unaccompanied migrant children.

As part of his May 31 disaster declaration, Abbott directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to revoke licenses issued to facilities under a federal contract to provide shelter and food to migrant children. The HHSC then instructed such child care facilities to "wind down" operations by August 30.

Reverend Mark J. Seitz, bishop of El Paso, and Reverend Daniel E. Flores, bishop of Brownsville, urged Abbott not to shutter religious ministries housing hundreds of "vulnerable" migrant children, alleging that the order is in violation of state laws protecting religious freedom.

"Across the state of Texas, Catholic Charities provides homelike care to hundreds of vulnerable migrant children every day," the bishops wrote in a Sunday op-ed published in The Dallas Morning News.

Catholic Charities Bishop Seitz, Flores migrant children
Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley greets a group of some 25 asylum seekers at a bus station on February 25, 2021 in Brownsville, Texas. John Moore/Getty Images

As of mid-May, there were 52 facilities housing about 4,200 children that will face closure due to Abbott's order, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

The move will not only leave thousands of migrant children in mass facilities, it will also leave foster children born in the U.S. without homes and hundreds of Texans without employment, Seitz and Flores continued.

"Children in our homes often suffer from severe trauma, instability and uncertainty. For those who crossed the border, many escaped or evaded drug cartels and child sex traffickers on their way into this country," the bishops said, adding that Texas must "protect children and live up to its commitment to religious freedom."

Democrats have strongly condemned Abbott's disaster declaration. Representative Veronica Escobar, of Texas' 16th Congressional District in El Paso, tweeted: "Imagine being a governor and using your power to prevent vulnerable children from access to care they need. This attack is against children."

The Biden administration's Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) threatened to sue Texas over the order in a letter sent to the governor on June 7.

"Although we prefer to resolve this matter amicably," said Deputy General Counsel Paul Rodriguez, "HHS is consulting the U.S. Department of Justice and intends to pursue whatever appropriate legal action is necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of the vulnerable youth."

But in a June 11 letter to the HHS, Abbott signaled a refusal to reverse the order.

The Republican governor has defended the order, saying a "surge of individuals unlawfully crossing the Texas-Mexico border poses an ongoing and imminent threat of widespread and severe damage, injury and loss of life and property" to Texans.

Newsweek reached out to Abbott's office for comment.