On Monday November 15, 10AM CST, the Joint Study Committee on Refugee Issues had their fourth and last meeting livestream in the Cordell Hull Building in Nashville, TN. They heard presentations from the Office of the Governor, Department of Childrens Services, Bethany Christian Services and Bridge Refugee Services.
The Governor’s office was represented by Valerie Yancey, Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs and Eric Mayo, a Legislative Liaison and also the Federal Relations Liaison for the Governor. Mr. Mayo gave a short report referencing only the Afghan refugees reported to be arriving to Tennessee.*
“We do not know how many (other refugee) people are resettled in Tennessee,” Mayo said.
Governor Lee, along with Senators Haggerty and Blackburn, submitted a series of questions concerning the “status of the (Afghan) refugee process and their vetting” to Secretary Mayorca of Homeland Security. The federal government has not responded.
Representative Ryan Williams clarified there are 415 refugees who have been vetted for Tennessee, yet there are no statistics as to how many of these refugees are already in Tennessee, or when more are coming.
Senator Richard Briggs raised the issue of distinguishing among illegal immigrants, refugees and legal immigrants. The committee was formed to evaluate the influx of “migrant” children coming into the state of Tennessee, as well as the transparency from the Federal government and Tennessee’s fiscal
responsibility with migrant resettlement.
Representative Chris Todd questioned the definition of “self sustaining” which is the stated goal of all refugee programs and refers to fiscal independence within 6 months. However, Todd quoted a TennCare report stating 53% of 1500 refugees in 2010 were dependent on TennCare, a taxpayer funded program.
Representative Dan Howell (Chair) then questioned whether the number of refugees will increase. Ms. Yancey admits the Governor’s office has tried repeatedly to contact various deparments within the federal government. The response has been to refer them to another federal agency or department. No direct answers have been given on any inquiry to date.
It is a “blatant ignoring” of all inquiries from the federal government towards any state oversight, says Howell.
Drew Wright, Executive Director of Legislation and Policy at the Department of Children’s Services, briefly reviewed the adjudications and appeals over suspended licensing of the Baptiste Group in Chattanooga, a migrant children’s housing facility. A secondary and separate judicial action, “Notice of License Revocation,” was filed on September 17. No further comments could be made due to continued litigation.
Senator Dawn White (Chair) asked how many children were at the facility when it closed due to charges of child abuse by employees, and where did they go? She was told no information is available, although DCS noted approximately 60 children were at the facility during their last inspection.
Todd accused the federal government with relocation of the children. One child reportedly involved with the abuse charges against Baptiste was found to be back at his home in Guatemala days after the Baptiste facility was closed by DCS.
Todd heatedly questioned whether Tennesse is compliant with the federal government in “trafficking” when DCS does not know, and ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) will not reveal, what is happening with migrant children who are reportedly being transported in and through Tennessee with no oversight.
Bethany Christian Services is one of only two agencies in Tennessee who receive or place migrant children. Amy Scott, Tennessee State Director for Bethany, reports her agency received approximately 100 migrant children since March 2020. Bethany is not a residential housing facility. They placed less than 15% of the migrant children in Tennessee with either family members or vetted foster homes.
Since the committee is mandated to determine costs to Tennessee for refugee or illegal immigrants, Dana Anderson, Vice president of Refugee and Immigrant Children’s Services with Bethany, said they are reimbursed for care after submitting direct costs to the federal government.
Bethany admits to reuniting children with other illegals. Todd again charged all government and agencies involved with facilitating the illegal immigration currently experienced at the border. Further, while Bethany and ORR have a prescribed vetting process for foster homes or family reuniting, Todd says it “reeks of impropriety” when children are abandoned as young as 6 years of age and then quizzed on their history and family connections in order to find placement.
Ms. Scott told Representative Williams that Bethany can only care for 24 children at any one time. Williams quoted a figure of “3,678 UAC’s” (Unacompanied Alien Children) in Tennessee. If Bethany is assisting what amounts to only 4% of that number, where are the rest of the children?
The committee then heard from Bridge Refugee Service Executive Director, Drocella Mugorewera. She said Bridge has resettled 35 refugees in Knoxville and 25 refugees in Chattanooga the last 2 months. She did not have the numbers for statewide. She said Bridge receives refugees from several religious minstries who work directly with the federal government.
Representative Todd asked to read into the record a survey result received from a committee member not present (Griffey). He noted most polls target 1,000 people and this poll had 2,322 respondents. An average of 97% responded “no” to a series of 7 questions on whether Tennessee should receive or aid illegal immigrants at taxpayers expense for housing, education or jobs.
Catholic Charities of East Tennessee was scheduled but did not appear before the committee.
The committee will meet with their legal department to finalize a summary report on each agency and department reporting to them since this ad hoc committee was formed in June.
Anne Beckett is the founder of Tennessee Action Group of Fentress County, a grassroots group dedicated to promoting the sovereignty of Tennessee and its citizens.