Governor signs letter to Biden requesting border ‘crisis’ discussion

By: - September 20, 2021 3:36 pm
Gov. Bill Lee addressing members of the Tennessee National Guard. (Photo:

Gov. Bill Lee addressing members of the Tennessee National Guard while on a trip to the Texas-Mexico border in July. (Photo:

Gov. Bill Lee joined 25 Republican governors Monday in sending a letter to President Joe Biden seeking a meeting to resolve the “crisis” at the Southern border where tens of thousands of Haitians and people of other nations are gathered to enter the United States.

“As we surpass the eight-month mark of a relentless and unregulated surge or illegal crossings, Republican governors are responding to the detrimental effects of the Biden administration’s failure to secure the border,” the Republican Governors Association said in a Monday release.

The association points out border arrests have increased nearly 500% since 2020 and says federal action is needed immediately to stem the surge.

Gov. Bill Lee joined 25 other Republican governors to ask President Joe Biden for a meeting in the next two weeks to resolve an alleged crisis of crossings at the Southern border to the U.S. 

“The negative impacts of an unenforced border policy on the American people can no longer be ignored,” the letter says, noting border crossings now total more than 1.3 million.

“Despite the lack of federal action to reverse the crisis, many states have stepped up and committed unprecedented resources to support the security of our national border. We have heard directly from our constituents about the damage this crisis has caused in our states, and it is our duty as elected officials to act swiftly to protect our communities, as it is yours,” the letter says.

Governors critical of the Biden Administration say illegal immigration increases crime and gives drug cartels more power in the United States.

Gov. Lee has expressed frustration with the situation at the border, visiting earlier this year where Tennessee National Guard troops are stationed and making helicopter flyovers to review their tasks. Tennessee Guardsmen are providing support for border enforcement agents on the ground.

The governor declined President Biden’s request for Tennessee to accept unaccompanied minor children who come into the country and stay in facilities temporarily until they can be placed with friends, family or sponsors.

Lee criticized the delivery of a planeload of immigrant children in the middle of the night at a Chattanooga airport this spring where they were taken to La Casa de Sidney, a center run by the Baptiste Group. The facility had a federal contract and was authorized by the state to accept children on a temporary basis.

The Department of Children’s Services suspended the organization’s license amid two arrests of employees charged with having inappropriate sexual contact with minors who stayed at the center. A third woman has been charged recently.

The Baptiste Group filed suit against the state, but its effort ran into trouble in the first round of legal arguments.

Some lawmakers questioned the state’s suspension of the Baptiste Group license, saying it became a political target, since the Department of Children’s Services had never suspended a facility’s license despite worse treatment of children at other locations.

Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro (Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro (Tennessee General Assembly)

Nevertheless, Republicans have generally castigated the president’s handling of the border and immigration.

State Rep. Dennis Powers, an East Tennessee Republican, posted a tweet Monday showing a line of people crossing the Rio Grande and saying “Build the wall now.”

In contrast, state Rep. Vincent Dixie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, questioned the governor’s actions Monday, saying his signing of the letter to President Biden shows a “lack of focus” as Tennessee suffers the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the nation. Dixie contends the governor should concentrate on preventing the spread of COVID-19, bolstering healthcare and helping Tennesseans economically.

“We need a governor of Tennessee that wants to be governor and not the next president of the United States,” said Dixie, a Nashville Democrat. “Gov. Lee needs to do his job and focus on Tennessee. The border crisis has no impact on Tennessee. At all!”

Republican governors, though, say the emergency cannot wait and want to meet with Biden within 15 days.

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.