***Update 2.27.24 – The article has been updated with relevant legislation being considered in the 2024 Tennessee General Assembly.***
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes, Kelly M. Jackson & Jason Vaughn] –
While Republican leadership takes to social media and the campaign trail, pledging their promises to combat illegal immigration, their actions in committees and in governance, which we will reveal here, tells the TRUE story they’d rather you did not know.
In this article, we will give you a brief history of illegal immigration in the state of Tennessee since the founding of The Tennessee Conservative three years ago.
We’ll look into the Republican supermajority’s unwillingness, as a whole, to push back against the federal government’s immigration policies.
Following, we’ll look at some conservative Republican legislation that was introduced in the last two years with hopes of curtailing the influx of illegal aliens into the Volunteer State, only to be quashed in committees and subcommittees… by Republicans.
And to close, we’ll look at the TRUE cost of educating the children of illegal immigrants in our state.
It Started In Chattanooga
Back in December 2019, Governor Bill Lee issued a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo authorizing “refugee resettlement” in Tennessee, making Tennessee one of only a few Republican-led states that allows ‘resettlement’ of this nature.
This appears to be the point that the Biden administration has keyed on to continue sending illegal immigrants to Tennessee.
In April of 2021, an anonymous tip sent to The Tennessee Conservative revealed that unaccompanied alien children (UACs) were being housed at an old Tennessee Temple dormitory in Chattanooga.
The Georgia-based Baptiste Group had received a federal grant of $3.7 million dollars to create shelter facilities for UACs in 2019. The group received a license to operate “La Casa de Sydney” from the state of Tennessee in the scenic city.
After at least two minors escaped the facility and reports of at least three instances of sexual abuse of the young boys by female employees at the facility, the license was suspended and the group was eventually made ineligible to run this sort of facility in the state.
With the bad press that the facility in Chattanooga received, Governor Lee attempted to misdirect Tennesseans from his involvement in the 2019 authorization by publicly denouncing Biden’s border policies.
While there may have been and may continue to be other such facilities around the state, “La Casa de Sydney” was the only one that has been confirmed that we are aware of.
Before the closure of “La Casa de Sydney,” flights of UACs were spotted arriving and being unloaded at Wilson Air Center in Chattanooga, only arriving in the dead of night.
Reports indicated that the minors would be transported from Chattanooga to various Southeastern cities in tour buses under contract from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Other reports sent to The Tennessee Conservative by Conservative Citizen Journalists indicated that it wasn’t just children that were being transported and redistributed via the Chattanooga airport.
News of the goings-on in Chattanooga eventually led to the creation of the Tennessee Legislature’s “Joint Study Group of Refugee Issues,” whose primary focus was to seek some transparency from the federal government about the transport and housing of illegal immigrants in the state of Tennessee and to provide workable solutions to the problem.
Even a joint group of Tennessee Senators and Representatives couldn’t nail down the hard facts due to a lack of transparency by the federal government. In the end, their short list of recommendations was the only result.
The recommendations included:
• Additional reporting requirements for residential child care agencies (RCCA).
• Immediate reporting of juveniles missing from a licensed facility.
• Licensure revocation and ineligibility for renewal when multiple facility employees are charged with criminal behavior.
The committee does not appear to have considered supporting state-level or real world solutions to the problem in the form of legislation, leading many to believe that the short-lived committee was just put in place for a bit of political theater.
In December of 2022, it was revealed that a non-government organization in Nashville volunteered to assist with individuals who are scheduled to be transported to Tennessee.
The organization helps with the cost of hotels and then arrangements for moving the illegal immigrants on, in some cases to reunite with family members in the U.S.
The Chattanooga area was also found to be a pit stop for busloads of illegal immigrants on their way from Texas to Washington D.C.
However, it is likely that not all of the immigrants made it to the nation’s capital.
In Dade County, Georgia which borders Tennessee’s Hamilton County, the County Sheriff’s office received a call that tour buses were dropping off illegal immigrants at the Pilot station in Rising Fawn.
Based on Dade County Sheriff Cross’ conversation with a bus driver, illegal immigrants were being encouraged to exit the bus at this location, given the impression that Chattanooga was within walking distance.
Since the discovery of operations in Tennessee to resettle illegal immigrants, both minors and adults, federal agencies have refused to provide information to the media and to state officials.
Most recently, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office filed a complaint against the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) regarding their refusal to reply to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to produce documents regarding the release of immigrant detainees into Tennessee.
Tennessee submitted a series of FOIA requests to ICE seeking records and third-party communications about the Biden Administration’s plan and any detainee releases into Tennessee. However, ICE has not produced a single document.
Tennessee had no choice but to file suit so that the people of Tennessee can learn the scope of detainee releases and evaluate the resources necessary to respond.
Due to the lack of transparency and reporting by state media, almost all information regarding illegal aliens in Tennessee has come through the accounts of conservative citizen journalists who have reported their findings to The Tennessee Conservative.
Earlier in October, the Tennessee Highway Patrol recently identified illegal immigrants in Charleston, Tennessee. The individuals, mostly adult males, illegally crossed the border around Eagle Pass, Texas. They were spotted in Bradley County, waiting to be picked up and transported somewhere else, carrying backpacks, bags, and cellphones.
The consequences of the nation’s porous borders are no better exemplified than by a double-murder that took place in Nashville in late September, carried out by a twice-deported Honduran national.
Feds Have Tied The Hands Of TN Law Enforcement When It Comes To Illegal Immigration, Tennessee Leadership Refuses To Push Back
As mentioned above, The Tennessee Conservative recently reported on a Honduran foreign national that had been arrested recently for two separate murders in Nashville. The man had been deported from the United States twice already only to access the United States, and then make his way up to Tennessee. And now, 2 Tennesseans are dead.
There is also the recent story of Camilo Hurtado Campos, a Franklin soccer coach who this past summer was discovered to have been abusing the children he had access to through the soccer league he volunteered with.
The allegations are that Campos, 63, drugged and raped nearly a dozen young boys. It was after his arrest, that he revealed to authorities that he had been living in the US illegally for nearly 20 years. The children he has most recently been accused of abusing are the most recent victims, the ones we know about. How many others are there that span the nearly two decades of Campos’s residence here in Tennessee?
An update on the number of illegal aliens in the United States for the year to date is about 16.3 million. In Tennessee, the estimate for the state is about 128,000, though other estimates found via research indicated as many as 170,000.
While our Constitution does provide states with the ability to mostly govern themselves, implement and enforce their own laws and policies, it becomes trickier when it comes to immigration law. The federal government has decidedly assumed and provided “guidance” to state and local law enforcement mechanisms, restricting their responses to violations of civil immigration law to “cooperation” with the federal government.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, under the Supremacy Clause in The Constitution, the assignment of immigration law and enforcement of those laws is given to the federal government, and in order to comply with a “cooperation only” approach, states are relegated to a prone position, at least, under The Biden Administration. The enforcement of federal laws usurps the states, and the states, in order to keep from violating this dominant/submissive relationship between themselves and the DHS, refrains from acting any more aggressively than allowed.
This marks a stark contrast from the Trump administration’s blessing on state and local law enforcement to facilitate programs and plans to actively seek out and hand over any of those whom they discover had been residing in the US illegally for possible prosecution and deportation by the US government.
When Tennesseans ask themselves why our state and local officials are not doing more to aggressively tackle this issue with illegal immigration in our state, and then take those questions to those officials, they are often met with a shoulder shrug and a complaint about the federal government and what has happened to our southern border.
And while those responses have some legitimacy, it leaves citizens to wonder why our state isn’t pushing back on those policies with lawsuits, arguing the severe and in some instances, life-altering damages that befall Tennesseans because of the conveniently complacent attitude of our state and local government officials.
The legal complications and even somewhat veiled threats from the federal government should states become more aggressive in their efforts to abate illegal immigration in their states, seems to be the primary driver of complacency. The U.S. Constitution is unique because it gives The People who live under it, the right to bring redress to their government, and hold them accountable.
It seems reasonable that as the number of people who experience harm from those who illegally entered our country increases, the states could address the issue with legal means of accountability in order to fortify its rights to protect the citizens of those states.
Back in 2018, State Representative Jay Reedy (R-D74-Erin) and then State Senator Mark Green (R-USC D7) created a state policy HB2315/SB2332, that states: “Immigration – As enacted, prohibits state and local governmental entities and officials from adopting sanctuary policies; enacts other related provisions. – Amends TCA Title 4; Title 7; Title 8; Title 9; Title 38; Title 39 and Title 40”. The law that went into effect without Governor Bill Haslam’s signature.
Conservative Tennessee Legislator’s Attempts To Slow Illegal Immigration Into The State
In the 2022 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, several bills were introduced that could have helped stem the tide of illegal immigrants into the state but all were killed, or watered down to the point of uselessness by legislators who claim to be Republicans.
Allowing Local Law Enforcement to Enforce Immigration Law – House Bill 2222 and Senate Bill 2264, sponsored by Representative Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro-District 36) and Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains-District 8), respectively, sought to give local law enforcement the authority to enforce federal law and arrest anyone transporting, harboring or facilitating the transport of illegal aliens into Tennessee.
The legislation failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee with the help of former Republican Chairman Mike Bell, and Senators Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga-District 10) and John Stevens (R-Huntington-District 24) voting against.
Stopping Taxpayer Funding Of Illegal Aliens’ Education – House Bill 1648 and Senate Bill 2597, sponsored by former Republican Representative Bruce Griffey and Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald-District 28) in the Senate, respectively, sought to stop taxpayers from being forced to fund the education of illegal immigrants. The legislation aimed to give school systems the choice whether they wanted to enroll students who are unlawfully in the United States. As a caveat, any school district that chose to educate illegal immigrants would not receive state funding for the education of those students, leaving them solely responsible for their educational costs.
This legislation failed in the House K-12 Subcommittee with the help of downvotes from Republican Representatives Kirk Haston (R-Lobelville-District 72), Mark White (R-Memphis-District 83) and Chris Hurt (R-Halls-District 82).
Relocation of Illegal Aliens to Blue States – House Bill 1994 and Senate Bill 2636, sponsored by former Republican Representative Bruce Griffey and Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains-District 8), respectively, sought to require the Commission of Safety, in collaboration with Human Services, to implement a system or the relocation of illegal aliens who arrive in Tennessee to the home states of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
This legislation failed in the House Department and Agencies when no Representatives offered a second to move the bill forward. The subcommittee had a supermajority of Republicans that included Chairman John B. Holsclaw (R-Elizabethton-District 4), Rush Bricken (R-Tullahoma-District 47), Dale Carr (R-Sevierville-District 12), Michele Carringer (R-Knoxville-District 16), Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown-District 38) and former Republican Rep. Curtis Halford.
E-Verify Bill To Weaken Job Magnets For Illegal Aliens – House Bill 1636 and Senate Bill 2297, sponsored by former Republican Representative Bruce Griffey and Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon-District 17), respectively, sought to require employers of six or more individuals to utilize an e-verification program in hiring; remove immunity for an employer’s reliance on other forms of verification; and prescribe penalties for employers found to be in violation.
The legislation was nixed by being moved to ‘Summer Study’ in the House Banking and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee. The motion to move summer study was made by Representative Clark Boyd (R-Lebanon-District 46) in favor of his own e-verify bill that, after amendments, only lowered employee thresholds from 50 to 35. Boyd’s legislation also prescribed no disciplinary action and fines for businesses/individuals found to be in violation and would not ask employers to use the e-verify system to verify the work authorization status of employees unless they were hired on or after January 1st, 2023.
However, bipartisan legislation to make the magnet for illegal aliens to come to Tennessee more powerful was passed and signed into law without incident.
Opening Door for Non-U.S. Citizens to receive Professional Licenses – House Bill 2309 and Senate Bill 2464, sponsored by Democrat Representative Bob Freeman (D-Nashville-District 56) and Republican Senator Shane Reeves (R-District 14), respectively, paved the way for non-U.S.citizens to obtain professional and commercial licenses in Tennessee, thereby increasing magnets for illegal aliens to migrate and to successfully habitate in the state.
34 House Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while 15 Senate Republicans voted in favor. Governor Lee had the power to veto the bill, but signed it into law only four days after it landed on his desk.
In the 2023 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, very few bills were introduced to address illegal immigration as it seems most legislators consider it to be a federal problem and outside of Tennessee’s purview to address. However one bill was introduced to at least ensure illegal aliens aren’t voting in the state’s elections.
Requiring Immigration Status Check Of Potential Voters – House Bill 0835 and Senate Bill 0137, sponsored by Representative Bryan Richey (R-Maryville-District 20) and Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald-District 28), respectively, sought to aid voter integrity by requiring the Coordinator of Elections to compare the statewide voter registration database with the Department of Safety database to ensure non-U.S. citizens are not registered to vote in Tennessee.
Legislation was “hijacked” by the chairman of the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee, Representative Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville-District 9), and taken off notice for the remainder of the session.
As with 2022, more bills were introduced to make the state a more agreeable place for illegal aliens but thanks to significant pushback from conservative Tennessee voters, the bills were withdrawn.
Making It Easier For Employers To Replace TN Workers With Foreign Labor – HB004/HB0260 & SB0151/SB0310, sponsored by Representative Dale Carr (R-Sevierville-District 12) and Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plain-District 8) , respectively, would have allowed state and local government entities to forgo verification of a nonresident alien’s status, so long as the nonresident alien either holds a valid J-1 visa, a valid H-2B visa, or holds a valid visa for participation in an international culinary internship program. This would have defeated the point of established verification measures like the systematic alien verification for entitlements (SAVE) program or the student and exchange visitor information system (SEVIS).
After significant pushback from conservative Tennessee voters, Representative Carr withdrew the bill from consideration.
Legislation To Allow Foreign Nationals To Become TN Police Officers – House Bill 0056, sponsored by House Republican Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland-District 44), sought to remove the requirement for military service and allow all permanent residents, including non-citizens, to apply for and be considered for positions in local law enforcement agencies throughout the state.
After significant pushback from conservative Tennessee voters, Representative Lamberth withdrew the bill from consideration.
2024 – General Assembly still considering this legislation
Putting Illegal Immigrants Who Commit Violent Crimes Behind Bars For Life – House Bill 1872 (HB1872) sponsored by Representative Monty Fritts (R-Kingston-District 32) and Senate Bill 2770 (SB2770) sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma-District 16).
The proposed law aims to deter those who are coming across the southern United States border and making their way to Tennessee with the intention to engage in drug or human trafficking.
Increasing Fines For Transporting Illegal Aliens Into Tennessee – House Bill 2078 (HB2078) sponsored by Representative Bryan Richey (R-Maryville-District 20) and Senate Bill 2802 (SB2802) sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald-District 28).
The proposed law prohibits any person from transporting an illegal alien into this state; increases from $1,000 to $5,000 the fine for transporting illegal aliens.
Increasing Fines For Transporting Illegal Aliens Into Tennessee For Commercial Advantage Or Private Financial Gain – House Bill 2432 (HB2432) sponsored by Representative Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville-District 17) and Senate Bill 2034 (SB2034) sponsored by Senate Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains-District 8).
The proposed law increases, from $1,000 to $5,000, the fine for transporting into the state, for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain, an individual who the person knows or should have known has illegally entered or remained in the United States…
Require Tennessee Law Enforcement To Report Illegal Aliens To Feds – House Bill 2124 (HB2124) sponsored by Representative Rusty Grills (R-Newbern-District 77) and Senate Bill 2576 (SB2576) sponsored by Senator Brent Taylor (R-Memphis-District 31).
The proposed law “requires, rather than authorizes, law enforcement agencies to communicate with the appropriate federal official regarding the immigration status of any individual.”
Prohibits Illegal Aliens From Being Housed On State-Owned Property – House Bill 1247 (HB1247) sponsored by Representative Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro-District 36) and Senate Bill 1151 (SB1151) sponsored by Senate Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains-District 8).
The proposed law prohibits an illegal alien from being housed on real property owned by this state or a political subdivision of this state; excepts incarceration and other housing required as a result of a criminal conviction.
Proposes Solutions To Illegal Immigrant Crisis – House Joint Resolution 0840, sponsored by Representative Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro-District 36)
The resolution urges the United States Congress to implement the following in an effort to fight illegal immigration:
(1) An illegal alien should be given a one-year grace period in which to order his or her affairs, leave the United States, and return to his or her country of lawful residence.
(2) If an illegal alien complies with these provisions, that person should be allowed to apply for legal readmission into the United States.
(3) If an illegal alien fails to comply with item (1) and is found guilty of a violation of any local, state, or federal law or applies for any government license or benefit, then such person should be prohibited from ever entering the United States again or applying for legal admission into the United States.
The Cost To Educate Children Of Illegal Immigrants In Tennessee
According to a Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) report, the cost to Tennessee taxpayers for the education of children of illegal immigrants in 2023 was $571 million.
There are approximately 50 thousand children attending local schools whose parents are part of the estimated 162 thousand illegal aliens who reside in the state. Approximately 40% of those children attend Davidson County Schools.
The federal government mandates that states educate the school-age children of illegal immigrants, the vast majority of which do not speak English fluently. As more of these students with limited English proficiency (LEP) are enrolled in the state’s public schools, the more school budgets are drained and resources are directed away from Tennessee children.
When immigrant families first settle in Tennessee, they have not had the opportunity to pay any taxes – federal, state or local – before enrolling children in school, which means there is no offset for the more expensive educational costs that local school districts must absorb.
With illegal immigrant families overwhelmingly earning low wages – and therefore paying virtually no taxes year after year – the cost of LEP programs becomes the fiscal responsibility of Tennesseans, both American citizens and those who are lawful immigrants. While some illegal immigrants do pay taxes, a large number receive “under the table” wages.
In addition to the fact that the poverty rate of newly settled immigrant families is more than 60 percent higher than US-born families, most of these families do not earn more than typical American families in the long run, meaning that the drain on school budgets will never be recovered.
The federal government provides less than 8 percent of funding in general for public schools so the lion’s share of the cost to educate children with LEP, also known as English Language Learners (ELL), comes from the state and local resources. Even worse, Congress provides not even 1 percent of the cost of these programs while requiring that states do the heavy lifting in educating the children in need of them.
That meager funding, provided through Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), is supposed to help ELL students become proficient in English so they can meet the same achievement standards as other students.
However, according to TCAP scores in 2023, just 15.6% of all ELLs were found to meet benchmarks for English Language Arts. The proficiency rate is 38.1% for overall English Language Arts across all grades for the state as a whole.
According to FAIR, not only do these students lack basic English in most cases, they oftentimes had a subpar educational experience in their home country and so lag behind their peers in all subjects.
With ever increasing numbers of illegal aliens and their children pouring across the border, some of whom will certainly end up in Tennessee, school districts face significant challenges as budgets become increasingly strained to accommodate the rise in enrollment of this cohort of children.
The Tennessee State Government website states that Tennessee’s ELL population has increased significantly since 2011. From 2011 to 2017 there was an increase of 45 percent. By 2016-17, 132 districts and 1,451 schools served ELL students. The state had predicted that by 2020, there would be more than 60,000 of these students in public schools. No doubt, the pandemic cooled that trajectory somewhat, but with 50,000 current ELLs and no end in sight to the rush on the border, that projection is likely to become a reality within the next few years.
With the number of children of illegal immigrants sure to grow across the state, it remains to be seen if Tennessee’s lackluster proficiency scores will be even further negatively impacted by increasingly higher numbers of ELLs enrolled in the state’s public schools. Performance data does not immediately show the impact.
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal K-12 education law that replaced “No Child Left Behind” in 2015, Tennessee opts not to include the test scores of ELL students in their first two years of school enrollment. Their scores must be included in their third year of school. Most of these students will graduate out of ELL programs within six years, but some will continue to require ongoing ELL support services – and the additional funding that entails – throughout the entirety of their educational years.
Paula Gomes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kelly M. Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.