A bill from Representative Diana Harshbarger (R-TN-01) mandating daily reporting on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contracts passed out of committee Wednesday. The “DHS Contract Reporting Act of 2021” was approved by the House Committee on Homeland Security, according to a weekly report from Harshbarger. Harshbarger serves on the committee.
The bill currently has bipartisan support, with two Democratic and one other Republican cosponsor: Representatives Elaine Luria (D-VA-02), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-08), and John Katko (R-NY-24). It would require the DHS secretary to publish daily reports of all covered contract rewards of $4 million or greater on a public website. It would also give the public the option to subscribe to notification alerts for updated reports.
Thursday, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (TDS) suspended the license of Chattanooga’s unaccompanied migrant minor housing facility, La Casa de Sydney. The agency running the facility was the Baptiste Group – according to the suspension order, all minors were moved from the facility on June 22. Since their suspension is not time limited, the Baptiste Group may request an informal hearing before an administrative judge by next Tuesday.
The Tennessee Star received a tip on Thursday afternoon of this information. That evening, several hours after placing inquiries with TDS, we received a formal press release and the order of suspension from TDS. The press release explained that their findings from a June 3 visit to the facility prompted the suspension.
Tennessee legislators will draft legislation to increase transparency and establish protective measures for the sponsorship of unaccompanied migrant children. The federal government says that sponsors are “almost always a parent or close relative” – but that’s not always the case. Lawmakers’ urgency to increase transparency and establish protective measures for sponsorship heightened after it was revealed that Governor Bill Lee’s administration has continued licensing for a Chattanooga shelter without apparent provisions in place to protect the housed migrant children from traffickers and cartels.
The Chattanooga shelter is run by the Baptiste Group, a Georgia-based national group that provides emergency shelter services for unaccompanied migrant children – usually for up to 30 days, excepting complications. Last May, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children and Families contracted with the Baptiste Group for a conditional Residential Child Care Agency License in Chattanooga. The three-year contract, set to expire last August, anticipated nearly $7.5 million in costs to house up to 100 children.
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).
The Biden Administration responded through White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki last Friday concerning reports of migrant children being flown into Tennessee. Psaki offered some remarks – though she refused to answer whether the Biden Administration purposefully ignored Tennessee leaders’ wishes when it came to housing migrant children.
During Friday’s White House Daily Briefing, Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy pressed Psaki about how the Biden Administration appeared to ignore Governor Bill Lee’s decision to decline housing unaccompanied migrant children in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Star discovered that unaccompanied migrant children were flown May 11 on a commercial flight – three days before flights documented by initial breaking news. Previous reports discovered that the unaccompanied migrant children were flown into a private airport on May 14 – Chattanooga’s Wilson Air Center. It is unclear how many other flights carrying migrant children came into Tennessee prior to these documented incidents on May 11 and 14. A source who was on the flight informed The Star that they encountered a man chaperoning 10 to 15 migrant children between the ages of 10 and 14 onto an American Airlines flight. The chaperone was described as a bilingual Hispanic male wearing street clothes, speaking fluent Spanish to the children and English to the source – he’d chatted with our source for around 45 minutes at a ticket counter. The chaperone informed our source that he was “escorting all these young men to Chattanooga for a shelter.” The group of migrant children reportedly had new-looking cell phones, clothes, shoes, and backpacks. The source added that some of the children were playing games or talking in Spanish on their phones.
The group of migrant children and their chaperone reportedly boarded the plane first and went to the back of the plane. They flew from Dallas Fort Worth Airport to Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, also known as Lovell Field on American Airlines flight number 3901. They arrived around 1 a.m. EDT on May 12.
Thirty-seven of 44 shelters, or 87 percent, currently housing unaccompanied migrant minors in Texas reported positive COVID-19 test results between March 5 and 23, according to data collected by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Cases are identified by shelter facilities and foster care providers, which are then reported to officials at the agency.
“The Biden Administration has been an abject failure when it comes to ensuring the safety of unaccompanied minors who cross our border,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said. “The conditions unaccompanied minors face in these federally run facilities is unacceptable and inhumane. From a lack of safe drinking water in one location to a COVID-19 outbreak in another, the Biden Administration has no excuse for subjecting these children to these kinds of conditions.
Thousands of immigrant teenagers will be held at a convention center in Dallas, Texas, as an increasing number of unaccompanied migrant children occupy available facilities, the Associated Press reported Monday.
Up to 3,000 boys aged 15 to 17 will be held at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas possibly beginning this week, the AP reported. The convention center will be used by federal agencies for up to 90 days as a “decompression center,” according to a memo obtained by the AP.
Government facilities that host unaccompanied migrant children are rapidly reaching capacity due to COVID-19 operational restrictions, causing the Biden administration to rely on a privately operated Trump-era facility in Texas.
An emergency temporary facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, was reopened Monday and around 200 migrant children were transported to the facility that will hold up to 700 migrant teenagers due to permanent facilities reaching maximum capacity and increasing apprehensions of unaccompanied children, CBS News reported. U.S. Border Patrol encountered over 5,700 unaccompanied minors in January 2021, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP).