NASHVILLE, Tenn., (WKRN) — It’s an all Republican, all white, mostly male committee ordered by Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton and Lt. Governor Randy McNally to look at the number of migrant children permanently being moved to and through Tennessee.
The group of Republicans in the joint study committee on refugee issues met for the first time Friday. The meeting comes after unaccompanied minors were seen traveling to and through Tennessee.
“The purpose of this committee is to give answers to many of the questions surrounding the federal government’s transport and relocation of unaccompanied minors in Tennessee,” Sen. Dawn Whit, the lone woman on the committee said.
From October 2020 until April 2021, 1,111 unaccompanied minors were released to sponsors in Tennessee. Still less than the peak under former President Donald Trump’s administration, where 2,191 unaccompanied minors were released in Tennessee from October 2018 to September 2019.
“My information tell me the first children came in October 2020, and by the way, Trump was president that time and when they mention being approved in May of 2020, Trump was president at that time and Governor Lee was,” Sen. Todd Gardenhire said. “[If] my memory serves me correctly, they were Republicans, not Democrats.”
Gardenhire, a Republican, whose district has come into question, is pushing caution among fellow committee members.
“I’m not saying anybody is innocent or anybody is guilty, but if we get the facts out there, then public can make up their mind one way or another and then all the rhetoric and campaigning going on can stop,” Gardenhire said.
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, a Chattanooga Democrat said, “It’s very hard to believe that this is not a partisan perspective that they’re looking for.”
Democrats say the joint work-study committee is purely politics with an end goal of helping drive specific narratives.
“When you talk about what their end goals might be, I have to take in consideration that again there’s no diversity in reality on that committee, and it appears since it’s been years this has been going on, but now, they want to talk about it, that they want to tarnish anything that the new administration, the Biden administration, might be doing,” Hakeem said.
The next committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for July 13 where witnesses are expected to be questioned by the Republican lawmakers.
Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, issued the following statement in response to the meeting saying in part:
“For years, Tennesseans have opened up their doors to provide loving and supportive homes for these kids. We should be working with agencies and the federal government to ensure these children and their families have the support they need to grow and thrive. We look forward to working with the committee to clarify any misinformation and ensure that every child on American soil is treated with dignity and compassion.”