'This is a program that's been around for decades. It was the same program under the Trump administration,' said an immigration attorney in Nashville.
GOP lawmakers in Tennessee have expressed outrage that the Biden administration is transporting unaccompanied minor immigrants through the state.
They did not object when the Trump administration did the same thing — and in larger numbers.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn had noted reports on May 14 that planes carrying unaccompanied immigrant children had landed in Chattanooga. On May 21, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the flights.
"They're simply on their way to unite with relatives and sponsors — to meet sponsors in the state, or just traveling through Tennessee until they reach another destination to unite with family members or legal sponsors," Psaki said. "Tennessee is a state that is right near in the middle of the country."
"And we've been very clear that our objective is to treat these kids humanely, get them to safe homes, especially homes of loved ones and sponsored families," Psaki added.
But the news did not sit well with the state's top Republicans.
"The lack of transparency around these unaccompanied migrants who are arriving in our state is deeply troubling. @MarshaBlackburn, @RepChuck and I are demanding answers and accountability," tweeted Sen. Bill Hagerty on May 25, referring to a letter that the GOP lawmakers sent to the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services requesting information.
The same day, Blackburn tweeted, "Joe Biden made every state a border state when he decided to fly illegal immigrants to our communities." Then, on May 27, the right-wing Tennessee Star published an op-ed under her name with the title "Migrant Crisis in Chattanooga."
Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee complained on May 25 about "children being human trafficked across our border into this country and then dispersed across the border."
"This is a policy of an open border that incentivize the human trafficking of children and it should absolutely be stopped," he added of the Biden administration's immigration policies.
On May 27, Rep. Mark E. Green tweeted, "It's time to put an end to the Biden Administration sneaking unaccompanied minors into Tennessee and turning every state into a border state."
Experts say the Biden administration's process involving unaccompanied minor children is not a new government protocol.
"This is a program that's been around for decades. It was the same program under the Trump administration," Matt Maniatis, an immigration attorney based in Nashville, told WKRN-TV. "The federal government has an obligation to make sure that they're in a safe environment; that they're released to a family member or legal sponsor."
Under the Trump administration in fiscal year 2019, 2,191 unaccompanied minor immigrants were released to sponsors in Tennessee.
Suzanne Emberton, chair of the Washington County (Tennessee) Democratic Party, pointed out the Republican lawmakers' lack of empathy for vulnerable children in need of aid.
"I do think it's unfortunate that the Republican elected officials in our state here, they seem to not be having very much compassion for these children, these are children and we shouldn't be using them as political pawns, they're in an unfortunate situation and need to be treated with some amount of dignity," Emberton said. "Many of these children are finding their families who are here whose aunts, uncles, cousins, that such and they're the sponsors and they [are] willing to take care of these children."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.