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Hate trafficking is alive and well in Tennessee — and particularly in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Last Monday, Tennessee state Rep. Chris Todd, R-Jackson, accused a Christian foster care organization — the well-known Bethany Christian Services which has an office in Chattanooga — of facilitating human trafficking by working with the federal government to place unaccompanied migrant children with vetted sponsors in this country.

"This whole thing reeks of impropriety, and I'm very concerned about these children that are being pushed into this trafficking situation," Todd said. "Our own federal government is trafficking. They're hauling them all over the country and dropping them in neighborhoods, flying them in in the middle of the night."

Sound familiar? Of course it does. It sounds just like the wild and false hate-trafficking rhetoric thrown around in Chattanooga last spring and summer after a television news report aired about unaccompanied children being flown into Chattanooga — sometimes at night — and housed in a shelter in Highland Park operated by the Baptiste Group.

In fact, Todd's comments came during the final meeting of the state's special committee to investigate issues surrounding refugees and immigrants — an effort that began with concerns about the now-closed Chattanooga shelter.

It began here, with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty all flogging the Biden administration, making similar, false "human trafficking" accusations.

The trouble with their message was that Lee and his Department of Children's Services had approved the Baptiste Group's shelter for the very purpose of temporarily housing unaccompanied minors until they could be placed with vetted sponsors. And they had approved it a year before — when Donald Trump was still president. Yet suddenly all these Trumpian Republicans were aghast and wondering why these children were being snuck in here.

Raise your hand if you think they would have grabbed for their pearls and accused a Trump administration of human trafficking to a shelter they themselves approved.

But the resulting kerfuffle in Chattanooga was just as ugly as the initial slurs. Not long after the Republican politicians put up a racket, an allegation of abuse was filed with the state.

The Tennessee Department of Children's Services punted on the first allegation of an adult kissing a child, then punted again on a second allegation, saying "kissing" is not listed as an act of sexual abuse. On June 3, the state made an unannounced visit to the Baptiste Group shelter and interviewed six children, one of whom told a DCS worker he saw a shelter employee kissing a child there. State inspectors wrote in their summary on June 3 that the "physical inspection had yielded no findings or need for corrective action."

But the news coverage sparked both an internal investigation and a probe by local and federal law enforcement, eventually leading to three arrests. The state also suspended the residential child care license of the Baptiste Group.

Baptiste has sued the state, charging discrimination and claiming that despite similar allegations against other shelters, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services suspended only one residential child care license in the past five years — that of the Baptiste Group.

But judging from Chris Todd's screed last week, that's not enough to appease the rabid, anti-immigration, anti-Biden members of the GOP in Nashville.

Bethany, a national organization following longstanding federal immigration policy, has supported unaccompanied children since the 1960s and helped settle 40 unaccompanied children in Tennessee last year through a transitional foster care program, said Amy Scott, state director for the group.

The organization has received around 100 children since March 2019 (yes, even when Trump was president), with about 15-20 staying in Tennessee after locating a sponsor, she said. The program is federally funded and does not receive any money from the state.

"Children are children. An unaccompanied child wants what every child wants — to be with their family and to be safe," Scott told the panel in her opening testimony. "We help unaccompanied children as a faith-based organization because Jesus calls Christians to welcome the stranger, love their neighbor and serve the overlooked and ignored. We believe that all children, no matter where they are from or what they have been through, deserve to be treated with dignity and care."

Someone needs to preach that sermon to our GOP leaders and lawmakers. They missed it.

Todd said he wouldn't trust the documentation of the children's immigrant relatives in the U.S., and he asked why organizations like Bethany were not placing unaccompanied children with a family member in their home country.

Another lawmaker, Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, said it is a commandment in the Christian tradition to provide for those in need. But he added: "We [the U.S.] can't go and solve all the world's problems unless we had all the world's resources and we still might not be able to do it."

Clearly those two missed many Bible lessons. They should brush up on the "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" sermon, along with the "miracle of five loaves and two fish" — the makings Christ used to feed a multitude of thousands.

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