Haslam wants answers on 760 migrant children brought to Tennessee

Haslam wants answers on 760 migrant children brought to Tennessee

July 27th, 2014 by Kendi Anderson in Local Regional News

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks at Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge's farm on July 25. Haslam wrote a letter to President Barack Obama condemning a decision to relocate 760 immigrant children to Tennessee without informing him.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

KIDS ON THE MOVE

Unaccompanied immigrant children placed in:

Alabama: 407

California: 3,150

Florida: 3,181

Georgia: 1,154

Louisiana: 1,071

New York: 3,347

Tennessee: 760

Texas: 4,280

Source: Office of Refugee Resettlement

GROWING CASELOADS

• Before 2012, the ORR served 7,000 to 8,000 children in an average year.

• In 2012, the number increased to 13,625.

• This year, more than 30,000 children have crossed the border.

• ORR expects to serve 60,000 children in fiscal 2014.

• The estimated cost this year is $868 million

Source: Office of Refugee Resettlement

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is upset that federal officials have brought 760 refugee migrant children to the state without notifying his administration.

The children are among the 30,000 or more, mostly from Central America, believed to have crossed the nation's southern border so far this year. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, has been placing children in states across the country while they await court action on their cases.

In a July 25 letter to President Barack Obama, Haslam said wrote: "It is unacceptable that we became aware via a posting on the HHS website that 760 unaccompanied children have been released by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to sponsors in Tennessee without my administration's knowledge.

"Although solving the border crisis is a federal responsibility, this influx of immigrant children could have a significant impact on state and local governments," Haslam wrote.

He asked the president to answer eight specific questions with regard to the placement of children in Tennessee and to increase the communication with states regarding ORR's actions.

"An influx of unaccompanied immigrant children to the state, with little information being made available to the public or to state leaders, creates confusion and could be very problematic. The start of school is approaching for many districts across the state, and the federal government's actions have caused great uncertainty around this issue," Haslam wrote.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement takes the children from border-area detention centers and places them with sponsors, who typically are family members. The children receive vaccinations and a medical screening. The sponsors must pass a government screening and agree to cooperate with the child's deportation process.

Chattanooga has a large number of Guatemalan and Honduran families. Most of the children coming to the border are from these countries, and so many are being placed with family in Chattanooga, local immigration attorney Sean Lewis said.

Children placed in Tennessee are given a court date in Memphis' immigration court.

"A lot of kids go to court alone and get deported. They need a lawyer if they want to seek residency," said Lewis.

Judges rarely deport children who have lawyers and are able to explain the conditions that brought them to the border, Lewis said.

"The judge seems to always find that it is in the child's best interest to allow them to apply for a green card and to stay with the family here."

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6592.