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Texas agencies tell state lawmakers of challenges involving federal shelters for migrant kids

AUSTIN, Texas -- The General Investigating Committee of the Texas House of Representatives held a hearing Tuesday to listen to testimony regarding the issues and current status of immigrants at the Texas-Mexico border from five state agencies.

One agency that had its officials testify was the state's Health and Human Services Commission. They are responsible for overseeing the state facilities that are licensed to house migrant children. Victoria Ford, the chief policy and regulatory officer at the Texas HHSC, says this year they are not seeing a lot of children transferred to stay at state facilities.

“They are actually using these intake facilities for longer placements of these kids than they have in previous years. I don’t know why," Ford explained to the the committee members.

Ford explained that the state facilities that can house migrant children have plenty of space. The capacity at the 700 facilities across the state is 8,540, but only 4,320 kids are staying in them now. Ford says the federal government is keeping kids at federal intake facilities far longer than previous years.

“We saw a significant dip in our ORR facilities down to the 4,000 level. We are not seeing that, shoot - it’s growing, we’re seeing it grow, but it’s not growing in comparison to how these facilities are growing,” Ford said comparing the state facilities to the federal intake shelters.  

The other agencies invited to have officials speak included the Texas Military Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Office of the Attorney General.

L'Oreal Stepney, the deputy executive director for the TCEQ, said the quick set-up of temporary federal intake facilities, like the one at Fort Bliss, is causing problems for the agency. They are responsible for making sure each facility has safe drinking water.

“In talking with staff, we have not seen this situation before and so we’re adapting quickly to what we’re seeing on the ground. And then, we’re also hearing that the number of occupants may be expanding and so that’s important to us because we need to make sure they have enough capacity to serve the increasing number of occupants,” Stepney said.

Three Texas facilities had complaints filed against them for their water source. ABC-7 was not able to find out which facilities they were.  

Both U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies declined the invitation to have officials speak before the state legislative panel.

News / Texas / Texas Politics / Video

Dylan McKim

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