Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee needs a rather large handkerchief this week — one large enough to wipe a significant amount of egg from his face.
It turns out that Lee and his administration's Department of Children's Services approved a license for a Chattanooga shelter to house unaccompanied migrant children a year ago — before Lee and other Tennessee GOP officials grabbed their pearls and cried outrage about "illegal alien" dangers. The state also was informed when unaccompanied minors began arriving here in November 2020, according to documents from the Tennessee Department of Children's Services. And according to state licensing standards, care facilities must provide monthly reports to the state, and Office of Refugee Resettlement policy requires care facilities to comply with state welfare regulations.
So much for federal officials so-called "zero transparency" with the state.
The kerfuffle follows the state's and Republicans' criticism in April of a Chattanooga parish, Redemption to the Nations Church, for leasing an unused building to an organization with a federal ORR contract funded to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children. The children, between the ages of 12 and 17, receive education on site and are not enrolled in Hamilton County Schools.
The GOP fear-mongering grew last week when Lee was joined by Tennessee's Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, along with our 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.
The three lawmakers signed a letter to the Biden administration that reads in part: "There are media reports that, within the last week, at least four planes carrying [unaccompanied children] landed at Wilson Air Center in Chattanooga before 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."
It seems now that there was plenty of transparency from the White House on down. Just not in Gov. Lee's office, where a year earlier, his administration approved that residential child care license for the Georgia-based federal contractor the Baptiste Group, according to documents from the Tennessee Department of Children's Services. The shelter began providing care for children in November 2020 as part of a network of federally-funded shelters across the country.
Oh, but wait. That was when the former guy was still in office and the Republicans in Tennessee were convinced that former guy was going to win again. Now, when it's Joe Biden who's in office — well, oh, no, where did all these little brown children come from?
Suffice it to say that Lee is still trying to hide behind the the not-so-transparent curtain of Biden administration "transparency" babble.
"Accounts that children are being flown into our state (on chartered planes), in the dead of night, with no explanation or accounting from federal agencies sounds shockingly akin to human trafficking," said Lee spokesperson Laine Arnold. "And how are we to know otherwise?"
Please. This sounds "shockingly akin" to shamelessly incompetent Republican baloney.
Let's review: The Tennessee government approved the Baptiste Group's application for a residential child care license in May 2020. The state renewed the license in February 2021 after an on-site inspection. The most recent license, a copy of which was obtained by the Times Free Press, was signed by Jennifer Nichols, the commissioner of Tennessee's Department of Children's Services, whom Lee appointed to the position in January 2019.
During the application process, the state was provided a copy of the federal contract between the Baptiste Group and the Department of Health and Human Services, according to documents provided by the state.
"This contract is to provide housing, personal care, supervision and monitoring to up to 100 unaccompanied minor children," the charter application reads. "This facility will provide short-term care to children, ideally up to 30 days, until they are reunited with a sponsor home or appear at an immigration hearing where other arrangements are ordered."
Three times over two days, the Times Free Press asked the governor's office if the state planned to revoke the license for the Chattanooga shelter or not renew it come February 2022. The governor's office did not respond to that question.
Now who's offering zero transparency?
Unaccompanied migrant children — some of whom likely are trying to escape human trafficking from gangs and the like — cross the border in hopes (or in their parents' hopes) that they will find safety and better lives.
At the border, they are initially in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. Those U.S. officials have three days to move the children away from a temporary border shelter to a shelter run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Children stay in ORR shelters like the one in Chattanooga for about a month while caseworkers locate and vet a sponsor, usually a relative, to take custody of the child until immigration proceedings can begin.
Lee and these Republicans, in their words and statements, constantly wrap themselves in their Christian faith.
What we want to know is when they are going to demonstrate it.