NASHVILLE — Immigrant advocates say they are baffled by a letter that Gov. Bill Haslam sent to President Barack Obama that says his administration should have been informed about the placement of 760 unaccompanied immigrant children in Tennessee.
Haslam said in the letter released Friday that the Department of Health and Human Services did not directly tell Tennessee officials that unaccompanied minors had been released into the custody of sponsors living in the state.
Instead, state officials learned of the minors through a posting on the department's website. Haslam said that practice was "unacceptable."
The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1o9b71U ) reports immigrant and refugee advocates say unaccompanied minors routinely have been placed into Tennessee households with approved "sponsors" for years.
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition spokesman Eben Cathey says they are usually placed with a family member.
Unaccompanied children have been fleeing violence in Central America and crossing into the U.S. because they believe they will be allowed to stay. Federal officials say Tennessee has received 760 of the more than 30,000 children who have been released to sponsors this year through July 7.
Children are placed in government shelters and then released to sponsors while they go through deportation proceedings.
"They've got somewhere to go," Cathey said. "They're not getting dropped off. They're getting placed with their mom, dad, aunt or uncle."
After arriving in the country, a court process determines whether they can stay.
"Unaccompanied minors have been coming into the U.S. for years and years and years," said Holly Johnson, state refugee coordinator for the Tennessee Office of Refugees.
Johnson said the latest attention to the issue surprised her and others who work with immigrants and refugees.
She also questioned whether Tennessee was seeing a big increase in the number of children placed, but specific numbers for previous years weren't immediately available.