U.S. Rep. Mark Inexperienced needs them in DHS custody

U.S. Rep. Mark Green, with the support of some Republican state legislators, says unaccompanied migrant children should no longer be in the custody of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Green, who represents Tennessee’s 7th congressional district, filed a bill Monday that would not only require a governor to provide consent before unaccompanied youth are transported from the border to that state, but also transfer custody of those children from ORR, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, to the Department of Homeland Security.

His bill, called the “Migrant Accountability Act,” follows similar legislation previously filed by Tennessee Republican U.S. Sens. Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann. The latter three have also sent letters to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra demanding more information about unaccompanied migrant youth being temporarily housed in Tennessee while awaiting sponsors.

Despite recent Republican outrage over the federal government moving unaccompanied minors into the state until they can be reunited with family or placed in the custody of sponsors, the practice has gone on for years, including under President Donald Trump.

Gov. Bill Lee has also joined in criticizing President Joe Biden’s administration for not being transparent about when unaccompanied minors were being brought through the state. Lee’s office has not explained how Trump officials notified them of when migrant youth were being brought to Tennessee.

Biden’s office also has declined to answer questions from The Tennessean about the process.

The pieces of legislation filed by the four Tennessee Republicans are unlikely to advance in Congress, due to Democrats’ majority in both chambers.

“HHS is not a law enforcement agency — it’s a public health agency,” Green said in a statement to The Tennessean on Monday about why the children should no longer remain in the custody of the federal refugee office. “DHS is much better equipped to handle illegal immigration and send them back to their home countries. HHS does not have that capability.”

RELATED: Inside Gov. Bill Lee’s fight with the Biden administration over migrant youth in Tennessee

Green, a physician, added that HHS “should be focused on combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and working to prevent future pandemics.”

His proposal would allow the children to remain in HHS facilities, despite being in another federal agency’s custody. Tennessee has one of those facilities, according to information provided by the state Department of Children’s Services.

The state in 2020 first licensed La Casa De Sidney in Chattanooga as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied youth in federal custody. Earlier this month, local and federal officials began investigating a report of a teen who said he witnessed a staff member at the facility kissing another child.

The employee was fired, and state officials said they believed the reported abuse amounted to an “isolated incident.”

Multiple members of the state legislature’s ad hoc “Study Committee on Refugee Issues” say they’re supportive of Green’s proposal, including Republican Sens. Bo Watson of Hixson and Richard Briggs of Knoxville.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, in a statement also praised Green’s effort.

Briggs and Watson have not been as outspoken as some colleagues concerning recent news reports of unaccompanied minors coming through the state. Briggs on Monday, however, described the practice as an “unacceptable relocation of illegal immigrants to Knoxville,” apparently referencing a plane that landed in the city in May carrying migrant youth.

Watson decried the “federal government’s failure to seek Tennessee’s approval” before sending unaccompanied minors to the state.

There is no evidence the state under previous presidents provided consent before youth in HHS custody were transported to Tennessee.

The ad hoc legislative committee is scheduled to meet a second time July 13 to hear testimony from various individuals and groups involved in or who have information about unaccompanied migrant children coming to the state.

Reach Natalie Allison at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @natalie_allison.

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