Joint Study Committee on Refugee Issues
Final Review And Recommendations
By Anne Beckett [contributor to The Tennessee Conservative and founder of Tennessee Action Group] –
On Thursday January 27, 10:30AM CST, the Joint Study Committee on Refugee Issues held their last meeting in the Cordell Hull Building in Nashville, TN.
This meeting was to approve and adopt a draft of their review for a Final Report to be released to the public and media. The committee voted to adopt the draft, with Rep. Bruce Griffey voting against and Rep. Chris Todd passing.
Sen. Dawn White (Chair) was kind enough to release the report immediately for the Tennessee Conservative news.
Sen. White stated the Final Report is a ”factual report” from the testimony and videos seen during the four committee meetings since June of last year. Recommendations for consideration are included.
The committee was charged by Lt. Gov. McNally and Speaker Sexton to investigate the federal government’s immigration program within Tennessee, and determine the state’s interest in the following areas:
Evaluate the number of migrant children being permanently relocated to Tennessee by the Federal Government.
- Determine the number of migrant children being flown into Tennessee and then 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 (financial and otherwise) of the federal government’s relocation program on Tennesseans.
There is only one facility in Tennessee to relocate children processed through ORR (federal Office of Refugee Resettlement). They report 1,100 children permanently relocated in Tennessee according to ORR data as of June 2021.
The Fiscal Review Committee was “unable to provide an exact cost due to a lack of available data concerning the number of UAC (unaccompanied alien children) in Tennessee.” Instead, “substantial assumptions” were used to estimate annual costs over 13 and 15 years, respectively: TennCare between $85,000 and $223,900 a year; Public education from $3.9 million to $13.9 million a year.
On May 21st, during a White House Press Briefing, the White House Press Secretary acknowledged that the federal government had been transporting UAC through Tennessee because of its central geographic location.
However, determining how many children are being flown through Tennessee and how to increase transparency from the Federal Government were both left unanswered.
Tennessee Senators Blackburn and Hagerty, Governor Lee’s office, state counterparts in law enforcement and repeated attempts from Tennessee government liaisons to the offices of Health and Human Services (HHS) and ORR were left unanswered except to be directed to the websites of HHS and ORR.
Catholic Charities / Tennessee Office for Refugees (TOR) reported to the committee on August 12th. They vetted approximately 500 refugees in their highly regulated federal program for the year. However, Catholic Charities has many related organizations of the same name under one umbrella. Governor Lee gave $ 7.3 million dollars from TANF (Tennessee Assistance to Needy Families) to Catholic Charites of Tennessee in November 2020. The larger organization was invited to speak at the subsequent meeting but did not appear.
The committee heard from Mr. Glenn Reynolds, Distinguished Professor of Law University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Legally, the Federal Government has constitutional power over immigration. However, “states maintain the right to regulate issues dealing with public health and safety.”
Therefore, “private contractors are still subject to state laws and rules” that are used by the Federal Government in both land and air transportation for illegal immigrants.”
Attorney Reynolds further opined, “the states maintain police powers and that a business’ status as a federal contractor does not preclude them from state laws.” He suggests an argument could be made that” illegal aliens place a financial burden on the state” in order to control the burden via state law and the courts.
The committee then made recommendations.
They first acknowledged the “extensive federal nature of immigration and UAC placement,” adding, “this issue is largely regulated at the federal level.” A distinction between legal immigration and illegal immigration was not made.
For the protection of Tennessee citizens the committee called for:
- The Federal Government to “seek approval from the state prior to the location of UAC’s,” and support for the “Migrant Resettlement Transparency Act” introduced by Sen. Blackburn and Sen. Hagerty.
- 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 Final Report is now available to legislators and several members have expressed plans to submit bills on these issues.
Sen. Dawn White said she would be working on a resolution to incorporate the committee’s ideas, especially the first recommendation related directly to a resolution. White also said any committee member could file a bill related to what the committee discussed and learned.
Representative Griffey recently has filed several bills related to immigrant issues. House Bill 1994 is tailored after an idea forwarded by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that would relocate anyone found in Tennessee who is not legally in the country to Delaware, California, Connecticut, Martha’s Vineyard or Vermont, the home states of the Democrats who Griffey said are responsible for the country’s border crisis.
Griffey also proposed House Bill 1648, which would allow a school district to deny enrollment to any student found to be in the country illegally and eliminates state funding for those students.
According to a poll by Tennessee Conservative News, and read into the record in the November 15th meeting, Tennesseans strongly “want action on the issue of illegal immigration.” We await the response of the 2022 General Assembly.