Calling it a humanitarian crisis, Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., is blaming the Biden administration for what he calls the "unprecedented number of unaccompanied migrant children, including those now being housed at a facility in Chattanooga," who are entering the country.
"We need transparency from the Biden administration as to the care these migrant children are receiving, how much funding [the administration] will need to maintain that level of care, and how the ... contracting process is being conducted," the Ooltewah congressman said Thursday in a statement after a budget hearing with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.
He said he expects to continue the conversation with Becerra.
During the earlier hearing in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, Fleischmann told Becerra that "once these children are on U.S. soil, we have great responsibilities, sir, I think to treat them with compassion regardless of their status."
Noting the Biden administration is relocating the children to HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities across the country, Fleischmann told Becerra one of them "is actually located in my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. And it's predicted that HHS will need an additional [34,000] beds by September to prevent children from waiting in overcrowded border patrol stations."
In Chattanooga, a controversy erupted after it became known the Redemption to the Nations Church had leased a building on the former Tennessee Temple college campus to the Baptiste Group back in 2019 to provide shelter for up to 100 migrant children ages 12 to 17.
City and county officials, including Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, said they had known nothing about the situation.
"I would ask as we have situations like that in Chattanooga that the administration be very transparent and know what's going on in our districts, whether we're in Chattanooga or anywhere in the United States," Fleischmann told Becerra.
Becerra said, "we will be reporting obviously to Congress on that activity. We are trying to make sure that all of our work is done with licensed facility operators.
"I think what you'll find is that you will have eyes into this — we have to respect obviously the privacy of children, they are minors," Becerra added. "So access to facilities where they are is different from access for adults. But what we will make sure is that we operate in a very transparent manner."
Becerra said the "most important thing we can do is make sure that you are apprised and the American people are apprised of what we're doing. Because at the end of the day what we want is for everyone to see it."
In a report earlier this month, the Migration Policy Institute said President Joe Biden's administration is facing "a burgeoning crisis as projected record-breaking numbers of foreign-born children arrive at the U.S. southern border seeking refuge. The challenge, which Biden says was to be expected, has been met with a lack of adequate resources, preparedness, and public relations."
While the arrival of vulnerable populations such as children and families has posed a "daunting challenge" for nearly a decade with previous peaks in 2014 and 2019, the research institution stated that the past three months have seen the fastest pace of increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children on record with nearly 5,700 arriving in January, just under 9,300 in February, and possibly more than 17,000 in March."
That's "created the perception of both an out-of-control border and a heart-wrenching humanitarian emergency," the institute added.
In Chattanooga, local officials felt blindsided about the unaccompanied children. Some Hamilton County Schools officials thought they would be tasked with educating them. But that's not the case. Classes will be at the Highland Park shelter. Children are expected to be housed at the dormitory for around 30 days before being connected with a sponsor or other arrangements are made, according to state licensing information.
Children began coming to the Highland Park facility in November. During a February inspection, nine were staying there.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.