(The Center Square) – In the past fiscal year, Texas received 16,394 unaccompanied migrant children (UACs), many of whom were brought into the country illegally, according to data published by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, tasked with oversight of and caring for the children.
From fiscal years 2015 to 2023, the greatest total number of UACs were “resettled” to Texas, followed by California and Florida, according to the data. Every year, the most populous states received the greatest number of children.
Texas received the most UACs in all nine fiscal years of 82,391, followed by California (68,249), and Florida (60,192).
From March 2003 to July 2022, ORR says it has cared for more than 409,550 children. The overwhelming majority arriving are males, by a roughly 70-30 split, according to ORR data.
According to federal law passed in 2003, “When a child who is not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian is apprehended by immigration authorities, the child is transferred to the care and custody of” the ORR. Federal law requires ORR to provide UACs with food, shelter, and medical care and release them “to safe settings with sponsors (usually family members), while they await immigration proceedings.”
Of the 16,394 unaccompanied children sent to Texas through ORR in fiscal 2023, 14,964 were released to sponsors in 22 counties. The difference of 1,430 is reportedly due to the fact that not all are housed with sponsors. Many are sent to facilities managed by non-governmental organizations receiving tens of millions of dollars from the federal and state government.
The top three receiving counties were Harris (6,040), Dallas (3,270), and Travis (1,750).
Federal and state lawmakers have raised concerns about ORR’s oversight and care of the children once they are in custody of sponsors and HHS-contracted facilities. Questions remain about unaccounted for children, allegations of abuse, and lack of accountability of officials responsible for their care.
At the state level, one group has called on the Texas Legislature to enact reforms requiring minimum standards for facilities housing unaccompanied minors. At the federal level, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, attempted to hold the head of the ORR responsible by eliminating her salary. Instead, 45 Republicans defeated him, including Rep. Michael McCall, the only Texas Republican congressman to do so.
County officials, state representatives, and others in McCaul’s district have called on the state legislature to act in the absence of action by Congress. Facilities already housing unaccompanied minors, or that have plans to house them, are located in McCaul’s district. However, these represent only a few of more than 50 operating statewide.
Austin County, Texas, Judge Tim Lapham raised concerns at a state senate committee hearing earlier this year. Referring to an HHS-contracted facility in his rural county, he said, “We don’t know who’s in this facility. There’s been no communication with the local government, city or the county. The federal government has thumbed their noses at us, the local governments, on this issue.”
Below are the 22 counties where sponsors received unaccompanied minors in fiscal 2023. If counties where HHS-contracted facilities are located were included, more would be on the list, including Austin and Pecos, among others.
These numbers exclude the number of children arriving in nearly all 254 Texas counties who crossed the border as part of family units. They were released into the country by the Biden administration without undergoing DNA testing to determine if they were related to the adults with whom they were traveling, according to a recent policy change.