In response to the U.S. Deptartment of Health and Human Services placing hundreds of unaccompanied immigrant children in Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam on Friday shot off a letter to President Barack Obama complaining that the state wasn’t appropriately consulted about the federal government’s decision ahead of time.
“It is unacceptable that we became aware via a posting on the HHS website that 760 unaccompanied children have been released by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to sponsors in Tennessee without my administration’s knowledge,” the letter from Haslam states. “Not only was our state not informed prior to any of the children being brought here, I still have not been contacted and have no information about these individuals or their sponsors other than what was posted on the HHS website and subsequently reported by media.”
According to Haslam, when the nation’s governors met in Nashville earlier this month, they discussed the issue of the immigrant minors with HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. The Republican governor said he “emphasized to Secretary Burwell the need to be informed of any children being relocated to our states.”
Haslam was joined in his criticism of the federal response to the situation by other state executives, such as Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — both Republicans — and Kentucky Democrat Steve Beshear.
The emergency placement of unaccompanied immigrant youths within the United States was the federal response to dealing with thousands of foreign children and teenagers who have fled violence in Central America, coming to the U.S. under the belief they will be allowed to stay as minors. The children are processed through government shelters, and then placed with sponsors while undergoing deportation proceedings.
Citing the possible “significant impact” that the placement of unaccompanied immigrant minors could have on state and local government, Haslam also includes in the letter several questions for the administration in relation to the minors already placed in the state. These questions include what the process was for determining children should be released to Volunteer State sponsors, how were those sponsors chosen, where the children were placed, what medical screenings the children had and how long will these youth be in the state.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has criticized Obama’s response to the situation at the border, saying that it didn’t appear as if the president had a clear plan to address the problem. Alexander has also suggested that Obama consider calling out the National Guard to help with the crisis.
Alexander has, however, been doggedly criticized on the issue of immigration by his GOP primary challenger, state Rep. Joe Carr. The 56-year-old Lascassas Republican has used the most recent immigration controversy to slam Alexander over his history of supporting immigration reforms generally opposed by Tea Party conservatives, including the June 2013 bipartisan amnesty bill. Carr has suggested Alexander is a tool for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that the former Tennessee governor wants to increase the number of immigrants to ensure an “over-supply of labor” to “suppress wages.”
On another front, 32 Republican members of Congress –including Brentwood Rep. Marsh Blackburn — signed a letter earlier this month calling on President Obama to rescind his 2012 executive order granting deportation stays to unaccompanied children.