Voices: A response to Gov. Abbott’s May 31 executive order

End of U.S.-Mexico border fence under construction in Arizona desert (U.S. to the left, Mexico to the right). Bigstock photo

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On Sunday mornings, we learn Jesus wanted children to be able to come to him. That same expectation applies to the rest of the week. However, Jesus telling his disciples, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14) apparently does not apply to Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbot’s May 31 signed order revokes child care licenses from Texas-based nonprofit organizations currently partnering with the federal government to provide care and housing for unaccompanied migrant children. Rather than being treated with dignity and care, migrant children instead are being used as political pawns.

As diverse as Texas Christians can be, I am confident there is not a follower of Christ in our great state who wants children left vulnerable and uncared for.

Federal law pertaining to unaccompanied migrant children

Under current U.S. law, unaccompanied migrant children are required to be kept safely in the United States until their court date. There should be no hinderance for Christian organizations or other nonprofits from providing that care in coordination with the federal government.

Abbott’s decision clearly is politically motivated. Federal law restricts the use of shelter-like facilities for domestic foster care except in extremely limited circumstances. Therefore, preventing organizations from offering care to migrant children will not increase capacity to care for U.S.-born children in need of foster care.

According to existing U.S. law, migrant children on U.S. soil are supposed to be protected while they await a court hearing to determine if they qualify to stay permanently in the United States.

The Evangelical Immigration Table has pointed out the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008—signed by President George W. Bush—and the decades-old Flores Agreement require children encountered by U.S. Border Patrol to be transferred within 72 hours to the care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That agency works with faith-based and other nonprofit organizations operating shelters generally required to be licensed by the state. Unaccompanied minors stay in those facilities usually for a few weeks until their parent—in 40 percent of cases—another relative, or in rare cases, a foster family can be identified.

Unaccompanied migrant children in Texas

Gov. Abbott knows nearly one-quarter of all licensed beds for unaccompanied children happen to be here in Texas, which I consider a clear indication of Texans putting their faith into tangible action.

Due to our border with Mexico, Texas also has some of the largest unlicensed influx facilities—such as Fort Bliss in El Paso and the recently closed emergency shelter at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas—housing thousands of children in large group settings, waiting to be transferred to licensed facilities.

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A Christian’s obligation

As a follower of Christ, I am concerned about the vulnerable among us. Children need to be with families, not housed in large convention centers. Using migrant children as pawns in national politics is shameful.

I know Gov. Abbott is better than this. He was a clear advocate for our religious liberty during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing churches to meet and worship.

Let us not departmentalize our faith to Sunday morning worship and turn a blind eye to the needs of the vulnerable children crossing our border.

Amos Humphries is the pastor of Park Lake Drive Baptist Church in Waco. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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