Tennessee Conservative News Reports

Joint Study Committee on Refugee Issues

Final Review And Recommendations

January 28, 2022

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. 

Migrant Children in TN

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.

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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