Photo Credit: tn.gov
Published June 21, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
Nashville, TN – On Friday 10AM CST, the Joint Study Committee on Refugee Issues gathered for their Introductory meeting in the Cordell Hull Building in Nashville, TN.
Senator Dawn White (Chair) said, “Simply stated, the purpose of this committee is to give answers to many of the questions surrounding the Federal Government’s transport and relocation of unaccompanied minors in Tennessee.”
White stated that when the committee was organized, they were tasked by Lt. Governor Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton to do the following:
• Evaluate the number of migrant children being permanently relocated to Tennessee by the Federal Government.
• Evaluate the number of migrant children being flowed into Tennessee and then being relocated to other states by the Federal Government.
• Determine how to increase transparency from the Federal Government regarding its relocation of unaccompanied migrant children to and through Tennessee.
• Study the impact financially and beyond of the federal government’s relocation program on Tennesseans.
White said, “I am deeply troubled by the reports of unaccompanied minors entering Tennessee in the dead of night. I am also concerned with the lack of transparency and openness about this process.”
“A lot of us have serious concerns about whether these unaccompanied minors are potentially subject to becoming victims of human trafficking. We’ve certainly heard disturbing news reports that are accounting that potential abuse has happened, just this week alone. I think it is important for our committee to look into this aspect as well,” White concluded.
Representative Dan Howell (Chair) warned the committee stating that, “this is an emotional issue but the committee should not let emotions take over,” as this is not conducive to reaching the answers they seek.
“The work of this committee is to separate fact from fiction, find the truth and write a report so that the citizens of Tennessee will know what’s going on in their communities and across the state,” Howell said.
The floor was then opened up to Committee members to present their opening statements.
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Representative Chris Todd posed questions he is personally seeking the answers to in the Committee.
“Does the Federal Government’s placement of UACs (Unaccompanied Alien Children) into Tennessee encourage more illegal immigration to our State? I’m also particularly interested into looking into the increase in state and local expenditures for English language learner services and whether this constitutes more unconstitutional cost-shifting related to federal immigration decisions.”
“The Biden Administration has relaxed fingerprint background checks for sponsors. Let that soak in for a minute. It’s been reported…that these children were being handed over to individuals with criminal histories involving domestic violence, homicide, child molestation, sexual assault and human trafficking. The HHS has stated it is not responsible for the child’s welfare after they are placed with a sponsor,” Todd said.
During Representative Scotty Campbell’s brief opening statement, he said, “The United States population, we’re about four to five percent of the world’s population. We cannot pay 100% of the world’s expenses.”
Following opening statements by Committee members, Office of Legal Services Legislative Attorney, Jamie Shanks presented an overview of federal law as it applies to UACs in the country and in the state of Tennessee.
Representative Ryan Williams asked Shanks about a portion of the law she read to them having to do with a list of qualifications that must be cleared with each UAC before they are admitted to the Office of Refugee Resettlement program. In particular, the section having to do with ‘committing a crime.’
“Part of the challenge this committee has is ‘when does the rule of law begin?’ Is it at the time of the original offense or later offenses? Because, it’s my understanding that crossing the border is in fact a criminal offense,” William said.
Shanks replied, “From my recollection, I do not believe they pursued the crossing as a criminal offense.”
Williams asked Shanks if she had any information about whether the UACs that were relocated to Tennessee were ones with criminal backgrounds.
Shanks replied that she has no information as to how the UACs were segregated for resettlement but stated that, “these children are not just the ones who are picked up at the border but also the ones that are apprehended in the interior at some later point.”
William asked Shanks if the purview of the committee is only in regards to UACs in Tennessee or if the purview extends to the entirety of the Federal bureaucracy’s inability to govern the immigrant program.
Shanks replied that could be answered by Lt. Governor McNally and Speaker Sexton.
With no more questions for legal, Chair White opened the floor to the Committee for requests for possible presenters for the next series of meetings.
Representative Williams requested presentations from:
• Department of Children’s Services
• Department of Education
• District Attorney’s Office
• Representative from the Governor’s Office
Senator Ed Jackson requested a presentation from a specialist in foster care.
Representative Dan Howell stated that that his office reached out to the Chattanooga immigrant facility but has yet received a response but would like them to testify.
In reply, Senator Gardenhire stated, “I’d be glad to invite the Baptiste Group. If I was them, I wouldn’t want to come here to this Committee, because of the already preconceived ideas but I will extend an invitation, along with Chairman Howell.”
Gardenhire also requested presenters from Bethany Services and Redemption Church, who owns the property in Chattanooga where the immigrant facility is located.
In addition, Gardenhire requested a presenter who can provide the official FAA flight plans of the planes of UACs that arrived in Chattanooga in the dead of night.
Gardenhire said, “I’d like to ask legal to verify about the first children coming to Chattanooga in November. My information tells me the first children came in October 2020, and by the way, Trump was president at that time, and when they mention being approved in May of 2020, Trump was president at that time and Governor Lee was..and if my memory serves me correctly, they were Republicans, not Democrats.”
Gardenhire also requested an expert in human trafficking.
“My concern is these children are here and once they’re here, can this body or any body of the State, do anything legally about the border situation..I hope we can…I don’t think we can. But can we look into what our responsibility is, if any, whether it’s legally or morally to make sure that any children in our custody in this State is well taken care of,” Gardenhire said.
Gardenhire also said he would find an immigration attorney to present to the Committee.
Representative Bruce Griffey requested that someone from the administration of the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Refugee Resettlement be present for a Committee meeting.
Senator Bo Watson requested the members of the Tennessee federal delegation be asked to present or attend a future Committee meeting and requested that a report be created to show the, “flow of funding goes and who owns that funding responsibility.”
Senator Dawn White made the request for Senator Richard Briggs, who was not present, requesting the presence of “Office of Refugees, Catholic Charities” for a future meeting.
White personally requested a representative from the Fiscal Review Committee to present.
For future meetings, the presenters will each have a 5-minute opening statement and then a question-and-answer portion to last for “as long as it takes”.
White did state that they would attempt to keep each meeting to 2 hours or less.
Next meeting will be July 13th at 230 CST.
The Study Committee on Refugee Issues includes the following Senators and Representatives:
Senate Members –
SENATOR DAWN WHITE (CHAIR) – (R) – (615) 741-6853 – firstname.lastname@example.org
SENATOR RICHARD BRIGGS – (R) – (615) 741-1766 – email@example.com
SENATOR TODD GARDENHIRE – (R) – (615) 741-6682 – firstname.lastname@example.org
SENATOR ED JACKSON – (R) – (615) 741-1810 – email@example.com
SENATOR BO WATSON – (R) – (615) 741-3227 – firstname.lastname@example.org
House Members –
REPRESENTATIVE DAN HOWELL (CHAIR) – (R) – (615) 741-7799 –email@example.com
REPRESENTATIVE SCOTTY CAMPBELL – (R) – (615) 741-2050 – firstname.lastname@example.org
REPRESENTATIVE BRUCE GRIFFEY – (R) – (615) 741-6804 – email@example.com
REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS TODD – (R) – (615) 741-7475 – firstname.lastname@example.org
REPRESENTATIVE RYAN WILLIAMS – (R) – (615) 741-1875 – email@example.com