The Biden Administration didn’t give The Tennessee Star any specifics about the unaccompanied migrant children being imported into the state. They didn’t disclose which companies they contracted to transport the children.
In response to a request for specifics concerning one of several midnight flights from earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) relayed to The Star the basic objectives of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
ORR’s mission is to safely care for unaccompanied children until they can be unified with a vetted sponsor, usually a parent or close relative. As part of the unification process, ORR is currently facilitating travel for the children in ORR’s custody to their sponsors to prevent any delays. Their parents and relatives are located across the United States, and ORR contractors use various transportation modes to unite unaccompanied children with their families, including air and ground transportation options, taking into account child safety and wellness, travel time, and cost-effectiveness.
It is unclear what percentage of these sponsors are actually related to the children.
HHS directed The Star to their website tracking the amount of unaccompanied of migrant children united with sponsors, organized by state and county. According to their data – which the site reports was last updated April 30 – there have been 1,111 unaccompanied migrant children in Tennessee released to sponsors since October of last year. Davidson County has the most by far.
The HHS response was similar to that of White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who finally responded to Tennessee lawmakers last Friday concerning the secretive midnight flights importing unaccompanied migrant children into their state. However, Psaki’s remarks didn’t include the Biden Administration’s response to Governor Bill Lee’s request that no migrant children be housed in Tennessee.
Even when pressed, Psaki would only repeat that their administration’s objective is to connect the migrant children with their families or sponsors.
“[O]ur objective is to unite these unaccompanied [migrant] children – children under the age of 18 – with families, with sponsor families. So children traveling – were traveling through – have been traveling through Tennessee,” stated Psaki. “I think I’m confirming here that Tennessee is a state that is right near the middle of the country, and some kids have to travel through there to get [to] their destination. And we’ve been very clear that our objective is to treat these kids humanely, get them to safe homes, especially homes of loved ones and sponsored families.”
Tennessee lawmakers’ frustration over the Biden Administration’s lack of transparency and blatant disregard for state interests turned into action. Representative Mark Green (R-TN-22) introduced the “States Have a Say Act” on Tuesday.
“No state should be forced to pay the price for the Biden border crisis,” wrote Green. “The overreach and secrecy has to stop. My bill […] blocks the Biden Administration from resettling refugees in a state without that state’s approval.”
Then, on Wednesday, Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Representative Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN-03) introduced the “Migrant Resettlement Transparency Act.” The bill would require that the respective secretaries for HHS and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to communicate in advance with state and local officials impacted by migrant resettlement.
“Tennesseans have a right to know if the federal government is resettling migrants in their communities,” wrote Hagerty. “President Biden’s border crisis has turned every town into a border town, and the resettlement of migrants is an effect of that crisis that impacts citizens on a local level, placing new strains on schools, hospitals, law enforcement, and other emergency services.”
The Star is awaiting further response from HHS concerning whether Biden Administration officials sent any correspondence to them about Lee’s refusal to house migrant children, and whether they plan on altering their protocols based on lawmakers’ response to the transportations currently taking place.
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