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 – 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