Last year, Texas and Florida announced that they will not provide state licensing to providers who wish to serve as temporary shelters for the Unaccompanied Children program, which handles minors from Central America and other nearby countries who arrive at the border alone seeking asylum.
This week, the Biden administration’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has sought “expedited review” to get around the challenge that those announcements created for the program by establishing a federal monitoring protocol it can use to assess safety and quality at these sites.
“To help mitigate the issue, ORR plans to perform quarterly health and safety monitoring visits to Texas and Florida programs,” ORR said, in a request published in the Federal Register. “The quarterly monitoring visits are in addition to and do not take the place of ORR’s existing monitoring activities.”
When unaccompanied minors from noncontiguous countries arrive at the border, often after a perilous journey through Mexico, the Department of Homeland Security is required to place them in the custody of ORR. The majority of the children arrive from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The agency then places children with contracted shelters around the country; many are in Texas, California and New York. While unaccompanied minors from Mexico are often quickly returned across the border, minors from Central America are infrequently returned home. More often, they are placed with family members in the U.S. and slated for a court date to determine a claim of asylum. The shelter system is tasked with providing care for them as potential sponsors inside the United States — a parent or caregiver already here, relatives or family friends — is identified and approved.
In 2021, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) removed the licenses of dozens of facilities and programs that contracted with the federal government to serve unaccompanied minors; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) followed suit in December of 2021. Those decisions left the Unaccompanied Children program with a “large number” of facilities “no longer being licensed by the states,” according to ORR.
Youth Services Insider’s read of the Federal Register notice is that it portends a significant amount of work, and likely more money, for the contracted providers in these two states. Such notices require an estimate of the time burden involved in what is being proposed, and generally, a proposed data collection plan around child welfare in the Federal Register might project 1,000 hours for something very involved. This emergency authorization request estimates more than 20,000 hours of work to establish and execute the new federal monitoring process in Texas and Florida.
ORR is also seeking expedited review of new procedures, mandated by a federal court order issued in August, aimed at better supporting family sponsors of unaccompanied children; access to legal counsel; and making sure minors and their potential sponsors know their rights to appeal a restrictive placement based on known or suspected criminal behavior in their record.