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Illegal Immigration Investigation

In TN Continues With Study Committee

August 16, 2021 , Published August 16, 2021

By Anne Beckett [contributor to The Tennessee Conservative] –

On Thursday August 12, 12:30PM CST, the Joint Study Committee on Refugee Issues had a third monthly meeting in the Cordell Hull Building in Nashville, TN.

The committee continued its investigation into current immigration issues in TN with presentations by the Department of Children’s Services, the Office of Legal Services, Tennessee Office for Refugees/Catholic Charities, Professors of Law Glenn Reynolds of University of Tennessee Knoxville and William Gill of Duncan School of Law.

The Department of Children’s Services returned for an update on the Baptiste Group (the group that ran the migrant children’s home in Chattanooga).  

An investigation of abuse is still open and is primarily being handled by law enforcement.  DCS obtained a summary suspension of their state license and Baptiste Group is continuing to challenge the suspension repeatedly in court. The Attorney General’s office is representing DCS.

Senator Gardenhire queried DCS on how many migrant children from Baptiste Group home had been placed in Tennessee. He then revealed 17 children had been placed in Tennessee,  leading to the comment that it hardly justified building a new school.

Representative Chris Todd retorted with Department of Education FY 2021 statistics. 

He found for all minor immigrants of any status (refugees, unaccompanied minors) there were “over 3,400 ELS (English second language) teachers costing the taxpayers of Tennessee $226 Million this current year.”  He suggests the schools are already being built if that many specialized teachers are currently employed for non citizens. 

Representative Dan Howell (Chair) reminded the members of their original tasks which included finding not just how many minors have been placed in Tennessee but also how many have and continue to be brought in and then relocated to other states. 

One of the tasks concerns transparency of the Federal government regarding its relocation of unaccompanied migrant children to and through Tennessee.  

Representative Ryan Williams asked DCS if they were being notified of any placements that have already occurred by ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement, who as of May 2021 expanded to accompany responsibility of Unaccompanied Children) and they stated they were not.

Legislative attorney Rejul Bejoy reported on the Baptiste Group’s contracts with the Federal Government.  He attempted to contact the Administration for Children’s and Families Freedom of Information Act’s office to submit a FOIA request on the three awards Baptiste had received from HHS (Human & Health Services). These awards were to provide shelter for unaccompanied alien children. 

He asked for “the successful grant applications, conditions of the grants, documentation on the number of the children that had been moved in and out of the Chattanooga facility, and any documentation explaining why the Chattanooga facility was chosen to participate in the program.” He made multiple requests and did not receive any response.

Data from the HHS award data website revealed 3 Federal Government “Notice of Award” to Baptiste.  Bejoy noted the databases on public spending sites have issues with accuracy.  

Bejoy claims the awards were likely sought in late 2018 or early 2019.  The first award with HHS was April 2019. (Baptiste was incorporated in Tennessee in May of 2019 according to a filing with the TN Secretary of State, Division of Business Services)

With 3 awards, Baptiste Group received $42 million according to public databases.  However, revisions and updates on awards are counted as separate awards. 

Once adjustments were made from government databases, the total amount was reduced to $12.8 – $16.3 million from April 2019 until May 2021. (Baptist only received unaccompanied minors in November 2020 until closed by DCS in July 2021). 

Some of the award monies may have been used in other facilities.  According to Bejoy’s research, Baptiste has active corporate registrations in multiple states including Georgia, Tennessee, New Mexico and South Carolina, along with inactive registrations in other states including Florida, California and Louisiana. 

The last award was dated May 2021 for a facility in Memphis. The award was reduced to zero in July 2021 and Baptiste now shows no registered facility in Memphis.

Representative Howell (Chair) noted from Bejoy’s report that federal awards are to be used within a 12 month period. Baptiste group did not use their funds until after 12 months had passed. 

Representative Scotty Campbell stated it is “greatly upsetting” that taxpayers in the state and across the country are paying for services and who and what are receiving those services cannot be determined. The Federal Government is not being accountable to the people.

Catholic Charities and the Diocese of Nashville was represented by Rick Musacchio, Director of Communications.  

He clarified how this organization works with a very small group of people strictly screened and vetted over an 18-24 month period by the federal government before entering the U.S.. They place approximately 800-1,000 people a year. They have no part in the current southern border surge.  He also specifically stated the current immigrants do not meet the federal definition of refugees and are not part of the resettlement program. 

Senator Dawn White (Chair) asked why the federal government gave Catholic Charities the responsibility to oversee refugee resettlement in 1980 for the state of Tennessee.  

Louisa Saratora, State Refugee Coordinator from the Tennessee Office for Refugees said this program was very small for HHS and Catholic Charities had managed their portion of the program well.  

Representative Chris Todd asked if refugees were eligible for public assistance such as food stamps or TENNCare after  catholic charities said self-sufficiency is the end goal.  They admitted the refugees are eligible as any other citizen of the state.

The meeting closed after some general discussion on immigration law with two guest attorneys. 

Representative Bruce Griffey clarified definitions used by the United Nations for refugee– one who flees his/her country and is unwilling to return due to a well founded fear based on a prosecution for reasons of race or religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or a political opinion); and asylee– one who is in a new country and unable or unwilling to return (to their country of origin). 

As stated by Saratora, it is only with a final determination of status that refugee services are made available under ORR’s programs.  

Griffey pressed to clarify whether Catholic Charities participates with Unaccompanied Children (a program of ORR), and was assured they do not. 

Upon questioning, Representative Todd brought out how extensive the regulations and accountability is in this particular refugee established ORR program, which Catholic Charities has been involved in to some degree for “50-60 years”.

Dr. Glenn Reynolds, Professor of law at University of Tennessee was asked to talk about “what powers the state has in regards to refugee settlement facilities”.  He admits federal power over immigration is absolute, and at the same time with less supervision. The courts have called it “uniquely unrestrained”. 

Dr. Reynolds focuses on Constitutional law. He reaffirms the states cannot regulate immigration, but can regulate licensing for facilities,  even if operating under a federal grant or contract.  

Recently in California the federal courts upheld cases to ban detention centers and have the state attorney general inspect the facilities for conditions.

He stated that the legislature can make laws regarding immigration as long as they do not target the Federal Government or discriminate against businesses that contract with them. 

However, after Representative Griffey asked what the legislature could do to inhibit entities that support illegal immigration activity Dr. Reynolds suggested taxing them. 

William Gill teaches immigration law and volunteers as an immigration attorney for juveniles with Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, a separate organization which is accredited by the Department of Justice.  

Attorney Gill explained the lengthy and complicated means by which  minors are represented, how the courts have a rate of 90% approval for claims of abuse, while successful claims for adults are much lower. 

Representative Williams requested the committee Chair have representatives from Catholic Charities appear to explain the differences between their various organizations of the same name. 

Chairman Howell entered 5 incident reports of minors coming into Tennessee by air flights.  At the previous hearing only one entry was known.

A date will be set for one more hearing.

The Study Committee on Refugee Issues includes the following Senators and Representatives: 

Senate Members – 

SENATOR DAWN WHITE (CHAIR) – (R) – (615) 741-6853 – sen.dawn.white@capitol.tn.gov 

SENATOR RICHARD BRIGGS – (R) – (615) 741-1766 – sen.richard.briggs@capitol.tn.gov 

SENATOR TODD GARDENHIRE – (R) – (615) 741-6682 – sen.todd.gardenhire@capitol.tn.gov 

SENATOR ED JACKSON – (R) – (615) 741-1810 – sen.ed.jackson@capitol.tn.gov 

SENATOR BO WATSON – (R) – (615) 741-3227 – sen.bo.watson@capitol.tn.gov 

House Members – 

REPRESENTATIVE DAN HOWELL (CHAIR) – (R) – (615) 741-7799 –rep.dan.howell@capitol.tn.gov 

REPRESENTATIVE SCOTTY CAMPBELL – (R) – (615) 741-2050 – rep.scotty.campbell@capitol.tn.gov 

REPRESENTATIVE BRUCE GRIFFEY – (R) – (615) 741-6804 – rep.bruce.griffey@capitol.tn.gov 

REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS TODD – (R) – (615) 741-7475 – rep.chris.todd@capitol.tn.gov 

REPRESENTATIVE RYAN WILLIAMS – (R) – (615) 741-1875 – rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.gov 

Study Committee Seeks Answers

To Illegal Immigration In TN

July 15, 2021 , Published July 15, 2021

By Anne Beckett [founder of The Tennessee Action Group and contributor to The Tennessee Conservative] –

On Tuesday July 13, 10AM CST, the Joint Study Committee on Refugee Issues met live for the second time in the Cordell Hull Building in Nashville, TN.  They heard presentations from the Governor’s office, Department of Children’s Services and the Fiscal Review Committee.

Representative Bruce Griffey stated concerns over the federal government dispersing all the minors from the Baptiste facility in Chattanooga after allegations of abuse but before charges could be filed and allow law enforcement to conduct an investigation with the minor. 

He made a charge saying, “I’m putting the federal government on notice today, if they do not cooperate and bring back that victim so this perpetrator faces justice under Tennessee law, I think that’s unconscionable and extremely telling with who we are dealing.”

Brandon Gibson, Chief Operating Officer and Brent Easley, Director of Legislation spoke for Governor Bill Lee’s office.

Easley revealed the Governor’s office has received 1,064 contacts since May 2021 about this issue and is deeply concerned. 

Gibson presented a timeline starting May 20, 2021 when their office was first alerted to media reports of bus and plane deportation of migrant minors in Chattanooga.

Local law enforcement  “reached out to their federal partners” with no response. 

She stated the only response was seen during a televised press conference with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki: “These children have been traveling through Tennessee, as you know geographically it’s right in a place where there are a lots of states around it, so it’s a place where some flights have gone through as some children are moving to other destinations.”  

Gibson made several attempts at contact with Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and Health and Human Services (HHS) with Jeff Long, Commissioner of Safety.  In response, they were repeatedly referred to the policies found on HHS website.

Senator Richard Briggs spoke with ORR and HHS at a conference on human trafficking and asked about a report of migrant child transport reported in Knoxville at that time. Both ORR and HHS stated they knew nothing about it. Various committee members recognized there is little to no oversight and human trafficking is in serious question here.

Senator Todd Gardenhire then gave the tail number (N481US) he obtained from Tennessee Air National Guard on the plane that landed in Chattanooga on May 20th . He requested the Governor’s office investigate its full air trafficking report for that day.

Representative Ryan Williams asked if the Governor’s office had been contacted previously at any time concerning facilities for minors. Gibson revealed the National Guard had made contact earlier in the year with Governor Lee’s office and she informed them Tennessee does not have any facilities at all for these purposes.

Representative Chris Todd attempted to find out who sponsored the bus and planes transporting minors but HHS would only say a “3rd party.” 

Using federal sources, which he called “squishy” because of the way they count, he said 1775 minors have been placed this year in Tennessee.  With 719 in Davidson county alone, he notes the added burden on the school system.

Further, the General Assembly just received the Governor’s budget which both they and citizens need to “know what impact state dollars are spent appropriately and on things (the citizens) choose to spend on as opposed forced upon us.”

Todd added, “only 7 states have received more alien children than Tennessee. There is a reason. I don’t know what it is, (but) part of the charge is to find it out.”

Jennifer Nichols, Commissioner of Department of Children’s Services, spoke on regulations for residential facilities.

Of the 29 in Tennessee, only Baptiste in Chattanooga, Tennessee contracts solely with federal agencies. It was closed in June due to charges of abuse. 

Mark Anderson, Director of Licensing with DCS, revealed he made an unannounced visit to the facility June 3 and saw only male residents, appearing to be ages 12-17.  The minor involved in alleged abuse left the facility and was reported to be back home in Guatemala. 

Representative Dan Howell’s legal team cross-checked federal sites for contract and grant moneys concerning the Baptiste facility in Chattanooga.  They were licensed in April of 2019, began receiving minors in November 2020 and were shut down in June 2021. Since April 2019, they received $39.03M from HHS and $12.2M from ORR.

Krista Lee Carsner, Executive Director Fiscal Review Committee, attempted to ascertain the monetary burden to Tennessee with TennCare. She said “the tracking data is not there.”  The closest average over 5 years of FY 2015-1019 puts an annual average at $9.3M. 

Senator Bo Watson distinguished between child and youth using pediatric definitions.  A minor “child” is different than the observed age of these immigrant minors.  They are actually “youth” which by pediatric definition is classified as adolescents from 12-17 years. This is a “completely different perspective when there is an overabundance of older youth, and, older male youth” (68%). 

U.S. Senator Marsha Backburn spoke briefly at the start of the meeting, calling for federal transparency in a bill submitted with Senator Bill Hagerty, and is attempting to investigate requirements for housing facilities Health and Human Services (HHS) is using for unaccompanied minor immigrants.

Senator Bill Hagerty was scheduled to speak but had engagement conflicts.

Next meeting will be August 12th at 12:30PM CST.

The Study Committee on Refugee Issues includes the following Senators and Representatives: 

Senate Members – 

SENATOR DAWN WHITE (CHAIR) – (R) – (615) 741-6853 – sen.dawn.white@capitol.tn.gov 

SENATOR RICHARD BRIGGS – (R) – (615) 741-1766 – sen.richard.briggs@capitol.tn.gov 

SENATOR TODD GARDENHIRE – (R) – (615) 741-6682 – sen.todd.gardenhire@capitol.tn.gov 

SENATOR ED JACKSON – (R) – (615) 741-1810 – sen.ed.jackson@capitol.tn.gov 

SENATOR BO WATSON – (R) – (615) 741-3227 – sen.bo.watson@capitol.tn.gov 

House Members – 

REPRESENTATIVE DAN HOWELL (CHAIR) – (R) – (615) 741-7799 –rep.dan.howell@capitol.tn.gov 

REPRESENTATIVE SCOTTY CAMPBELL – (R) – (615) 741-2050 – rep.scotty.campbell@capitol.tn.gov 

REPRESENTATIVE BRUCE GRIFFEY – (R) – (615) 741-6804 – rep.bruce.griffey@capitol.tn.gov 

REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS TODD – (R) – (615) 741-7475 – rep.chris.todd@capitol.tn.gov 

REPRESENTATIVE RYAN WILLIAMS – (R) – (615) 741-1875 – rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.gov 

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