The same Republicans who saw no problem with migrant children ripped from their parents arms, put in cages and lost to their families because the Trump administration didn't keep track of them, are now up in arms because migrant children are traveling through Chattanooga and a few being cared for here.
Clearly hyping up fear, Tennessee's Gov. Bill Lee and Tennessee's congressional representatives "issued strong words" Thursday against President Joe Biden's administration and what they described as a "lack of transparency" around the alleged movement of unaccompanied migrant children through Chattanooga.
"There are media reports that, within the last week, at least four planes carrying [unaccompanied children] landed at Wilson Air Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before swiftly boarding the children onto buses and transporting them to multiple cities across the southeastern United States for apparent resettlement, with zero transparency regarding what was happening," reads a letter signed by Republican Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, along with U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki weighed in on the objections to migrant youth landing in Tennessee during a news briefing on Friday.
"Geographically, it is right in a place where there's a lot of states around it," she said of Tennessee, which borders eight states and has been a crossroad of the country for more than a century. "Some flights have gone through while children are going to other destinations."
It's no secret that the number of unaccompanied children in federal custody has grown to record levels in recent months. Nor has it been a secret that Tennessee is where some of them landed. Equally not secret is the fact that the GOP wants to continue using immigration fear as a wedge.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told The Tennessean it is in charge of unaccompanied children until they are united with a vetted sponsor, which is usually a parent or close relative.
The office said 290 unaccompanied children were released in Davidson County between Oct. 1, 2020, and March 21. Statewide, a total of 717 unaccompanied children were released in the same time period. Those numbers span both the administration of former President Donald Trump and President Biden. Between October 2018 and September 2019, 2,191 children were released to sponsors in Tennessee.
All this was fine with Gov. Lee while Trump was in office.
In December 2019, Lee agreed to let refugees continue resettling in Tennessee, and he cited his Christian faith when others criticized him. At the time Lee said Congress needed to address immigration reform because states "have no say."
But in a Thursday afternoon tweet, Lee said he declined a request from the Biden administration to house unaccompanied minors "weeks ago." The governor called the recent spike in immigration "one of the worst human trafficking crises we've seen at our border in the last 20 years."
The Office of Refugee Resettlement did not say how many unaccompanied minors were released since March 21. It also declined to answer any further questions from The Tennessean about reports of unaccompanied minors flying into Chattanooga.
That's really not surprising given all the grief Tennessee officials caused in recent months as they tried to stoke fear.
In April, Redemption to the Nations Church drew criticism for leasing an unused building to an organization with a federal contract funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children. The children, between the ages of 12 and 17, receive education on site and are not placed in Hamilton County Schools.
The pastor who agreed to help house the migrant children here said last month his decision made him and his church the target of harassment: "I have seen people who call themselves Christians demonstrate the nastiest demeanor," Kevin Wallace said last month.
Now our lawmakers are demonstrating that nastiness.
Sen. Bill Hagerty wrote in a tweet Thursday: "I have warned that Biden's failure at the border would result in a systematic resettling of migrants in our communities. A new reality is happening in our country — every town is now a border town."
Blackburn, in a different statement, pulled out the "A" word.
"Biden's actions and rhetoric have caused thousands of illegal aliens to flood our borders and overwhelm our Border Patrol agents, who have been able to apprehend just half a million of them," she said. "Now his administration is secretly transporting the migrants the Border Patrol did catch to communities throughout the United States. They are doing this in the dead of night without the knowledge or permission of the communities involved" and putting Americans, Tennesseans and the unaccompanied minors at risk.
Gosh, you'd think the kids got to vote when they stepped off the planes and buses to use the restroom.
"We need to protect vulnerable children. Period. It is the right thing to do and our laws require nothing less," she said. "We have the capacity, resources and can do anything we decide we want to do, including protecting vulnerable children and families in need. It's time to come together as a nation to reject cruelty and center the wellbeing of children and families. We urge Senator Blackburn, Senator Hagerty, and Governor Lee to follow their morals and support a just asylum system that puts compassion and dignity first."