Chattanooga has become just another drop-off site for unaccompanied illegal immigrant children, who have been allowed to come into the country from Mexico and countries farther south by the Biden administration.
It's a scene that is playing out across the country after the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reported a record number of 18,890 unaccompanied children in their custody in March.
Redemption to the Nations, an independent church on Bailey Avenue formerly associated with the Church of God, is housing an unknown number of children in one of its unused buildings, which previously had been a dormitory for the former Tennessee Temple University.
Kevin Wallace, the church's lead pastor, said his congregation is housing the children, who are "vulnerable" and "have no one to advocate for them," "in keeping with our vision as a church."
The Baptiste Group, which runs similar shelters across the country, is operating the facility, has advertised for bilingual teachers and has been approved for licensing by the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
We don't fault the church for doing what it believes is its mission, but we do object to the way the children are being foisted on states and cities without plans for what will be done with them in the long term.
On Monday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order to block such children from being placed in that state's foster care and group care homes. He said the placement would stretch "an already-strained system."
"This heartbreaking humanitarian crisis on our border was created by the Biden administration," he tweeted after issuing the order. "Sending unaccompanied migrant children from the border to states like South Carolina only makes the problem worse."
Elsewhere, up to 240 unaccompanied children will be housed in Albion, Michigan, on the campus of a nonprofit organization that specializes in child behavioral health services; around 500 are being housed in Houston under the auspices of the National Association of Christian Churches; up to 1,000 will be temporarily sheltered in the convention center in Long Beach, California; and an unknown number were headed to Connecticut, where one housing consideration was a now-shuttered juvenile detention center.
The above is just a sampling of the many placements, most done without regard to how long the children would be there, how or if they would be enrolled in school districts in the middle of the year, and what social services would need to be stretched to accommodate them.
The problems that will play out on much bigger stages in cities like Long Beach and Houston began to come to light in Chattanooga over the weekend as the initial reports of children being spirited into the city — and to the dorm whose fences were covered in black tarps — came to light.
On Monday, for instance, the Chattanooga Police Department said it had not received a specific request for providing safety for the children at the former dorm. And while Hamilton County Schools said two 1980s Supreme Court decisions compelled the district to provide the children an education, principals were instructed to register them regardless of proof of residency, immunization record or proof of guardianship.
However, according to a WTVC report Tuesday, the children will not be attending public schools but, because they are to be here only 30 days or less, will receive instruction at the former dorm.
The Baptiste Group documents on file with the state say there are to be up to 100 children, and the television report says children will range in age from 12 to 17, with one staff member for every eight children.
Reports from the placement of children in other parts of the country, though, indicate the amount of time they spend in such facilities may go well beyond 30 days.
The cost for housing these children across the country, according to The Washington Post, is at least $60 million per week, and that cost is expected to rise. That works out to about $24,000 for each minor for an average stay of 31 days, at which time they are released — still illegal — to a vetted family member already in the United States or an eligible sponsor.
The number of unaccompanied minors is expected to jump to 22,000 to 26,000 per month by September, the government projects.
Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tennessee, said he foresaw what is now "a reality" in Chattanooga.
"This inhumane crisis, which the Biden Administration generated by dismantling commonsense border security and immigration enforcement measures, was completely avoidable," he said in a statement Tuesday. "When I urged President Biden not to end the Migrant Protection Protocols, I warned that returning to a catch-and-release policy would bring the crisis to communities across the United States."
Unfortunately, with the welcome mat at the border, there is no end in sight. And now Chattanooga has become a station stop for such children en route to the interior of the country and permanent residence there.