Health & Human Services

Texas Eases Rules for Housing Immigrant Children

August 7, 2014
 

Overwhelmed by the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children, the state of Texas relaxed its standards for the shelters that house them, easing rules governing how much space each child needs and what kind of facilities they should have.

In some ways, the response to the influx resembled the reaction to a hurricane, with federally contracted shelters asking the state licensing agency to temporarily bend some of its regulations to accommodate a large population of children.

As with a natural disaster, President Barack Obama put the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of coordinating the government’s response. Disaster-relief teams towed their portable showers and kitchens to the border, and Catholic Charities took donations and distributed clothing and supplies to the displaced.

Kyle Janek, executive commissioner of Texas Health and Human Services, instructed the state body that licenses shelters to work with them.

“Because of the large numbers we were seeing in a short period of time,” Janek said, he directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to lower shelter standards to the same level as after a hurricane. He made the remarks late last month in testimony to a legislative committee.

The regulatory changes reduced the number of square feet required for each child and allowed more children to be housed per available toilet, sink and shower. Some shelters proposed having additional kids sleep on cots — an idea that was approved. A suggestion to give them air mattresses was denied, according to shelter documents obtained by The Associated Press through an open-records request.

Even with the changes, the shelters are a world away from the crowded conditions in the Border Patrol station holding cells where children were held for days for processing. At the shelters, children take classes, receive hot meals and can play.

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