By William Haupt III [Tennessee Watchdog Journalist, Columnist, Author, and Citizen Legislator] –
The House chamber advanced and approved a series of bills last week that will bring more transparency and oversight to refugee and unaccompanied minor re-settlements in Tennessee.
House Bill 2868 requires the Tennessee Office for Refugees to submit at least a quarterly report to the department of finance and administration regarding refugee resettlement services statewide. The Tennessee Office for Refugees is a department of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Nashville, which is designated and funded by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to administer the state refugee resettlement program.
“There were portions of Catholic charities that have been great partners that release information and… then there are partners who do not do that,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville. “We are a place where we want to welcome refugees the right way, but if someone is flying people in the dark of night, they’re landing at our airports and they refuse to share with us who they are, then that’s not being a good partner.”
There were 348 new refugee arrivals in Tennessee during the last fiscal year – a 55 percent increase from the previous year, according to reports from the Tennessee Office for Refugees. There were 72 refugees that arrived in the state between October and December 2021. House Bill 2868 was approved by the House chamber on Monday. A companion version of the bill is making its way through the Senate.
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A separate piece of legislation, House Bill 2711, contains reporting requirements to ensure that the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is aware of any unaccompanied migrant children who are being brought into the state by the federal government. The legislation also limits the number of minors who can be housed in a nontraditional child care agency (NCCA) dormitory and creates a cause of action for a child who may have been subject to abuse at an NCCA facility.
“The state of Tennessee has no standing with regard to immigration, but we do have standing with regard to the welfare and safety of these children,” bill sponsor State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, told members of the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee on Wednesday. “I believe these safeguards are reasonable. They will help protect the children in Tennessee who find themselves in these situations in the future.” House Bill 2711 has been placed behind the budget for consideration.
Another bill sponsored by Howell puts into place additional safeguards of reporting requirements for residential child care agencies (RCCA). House Bill 2712 is legislation resulting from a joint study commission on refugee resettlement issues.
House Bill 2712 will require to disclose all contracts in agreement with third parties to provide care, housing and placement for children in Tennessee in order to receive a new license or license renewal. Additionally, it requires the Department of Children’s Services to revoke the license of a facility that provides residential child care if more than two employees or 3 percent of employees have been charged with criminal offenses related to their job. It also requires an annual report showing the reasons for transfers of children. Lastly, the legislation requires the child care facility to report the names of children who have escaped or disappeared. House Bill 2712 now heads to the governor’s desk.
These bills were introduced less than a year after it was discovered that the federal government was secretly transporting unaccompanied migrant children into Tennessee and housing them without the knowledge or approval of the state. Following a report of child abuse at a Chattanooga facility being operated by a federal government contractor, DCS launched an investigation in May 2021.
According to a report by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 6,000 unaccompanied minors have been released to sponsors in Tennessee since 2021.
Republicans improve voter integrity laws
The Tennessee General Assembly last week gave final approval to legislation that prohibits non-U.S. citizens from participating in federal, state, or local elections in Tennessee. The House of Representatives passed House Bill 2128 in March and the Senate companion version passed this week.
House Bill 2128 ensures that no local government entity grants voting rights to any individual who is not a United States citizen for an election.
The bill also gives additional tools to the coordinator of elections to identify non-U.S. citizens on the voter rolls as well as Tennesseans who’ve moved to another state. This bill authorizes the coordinator of elections to compare the statewide voter registration database with those of other relevant state agencies and county records. Information about House Bill 2128 can be found here.
William Haupt III is a retired professional journalist, author, and citizen legislator in California for over 40 years. He got his start working to approve California Proposition 13. His work also appears in The Center Square, The Western Journal, Neighbor Newspapers, KPXJ 21 (Shreveport, LA), Killeen Daily Herald, Aberdeen American News, InsideNova, Kankakee Daily Journal, Monterey County Weekly, Olean Times Herald, The Greeneville Sun and more. Follow William on Twitter @iii_haupt.