Tennessee House bill seeks to gather information on immigrant children

By: - April 7, 2022 6:59 am
Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, addresses his bill on Wednesday. Screenshot from House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, addresses his bill on Wednesday. Screenshot from House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

A bill seeking to gather identifying information on unaccompanied migrant children was placed on the state budget for review, despite reservations from legislators as to who would have access to the information.  

On Tuesday, Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, introduced to the House Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee a bill to require organizations housing migrant children to collect identifying information, such as where they came from, in a database to be reported to the Department of Children’s Services and to limit the amount of children that can be housed. 

After unaccompanied migrant children were placed in Chattanooga in June, legislators formed a committee to discuss how the federal government’s immigration program operated in Tennessee. Committee members recommended suspending all license holders involved in the placement of migrant children due to concerns that they could be used for sex-trafficking purposes. 

These recommendations came after reports that abuse occurred in a Chattanooga facility temporarily housing immigrant children. State, federal and local law enforcement investigated the reports after the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services spoke to several children during an unannounced visit. One of the children disclosed that he had witnessed staff members abusing another child.

“When I say children, I wanted to make you aware that our hearings discovered that we’re calling these children, they’re really young adults,” said Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, of his bill to gather information on unaccompanied migrant children.

The facility, operated by the nonprofit Baptiste Group but not run by DCS, has since had their license revoked and appealed the decision. 

House Bill 2711 seeks to provide safeguards for children transported across state lines by an agency, defined as nontraditional child care agencies, by requiring reports within 72 hours on each child to DCS and requiring agencies to inform DCS at least 10 days prior of the child’s arrival.

 “And when I say children, I wanted to make you aware that our hearings discovered that we’re calling these children, they’re really young adults,” said Howell, referring to children aged 12 to 17.

But legislators questioned the legality of who would have access to information belonging to underage children and to what extent could the state acquire information that the federal government did not release. 

“Some information is protected for a reason,” said Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis. “Maybe their family was fleeing for some reason that the federal government is trying to protect the information.”

“Obviously these kids are probably in a very traumatic situation and they don’t know what’s happening to them,” said Rep. Ron Gant, R-Piperton. 

Howell responded that the information will not be made public and that information belonging to underage children is protected to some degree, but bill amendments allow information provided by nontraditional child care agencies to be accessed by law enforcement and other appropriate entities, including the attorney general should children require cause of action against alleged abuse.  

Rep. Chris Todd, R-Jackson, said that the state is limited in the information they have access to until “we have an administration change that is actually willing to enforce immigration law and protect our borders.”

Howell expects state expenditures to come to $874,400 for the fiscal year of 2022-2023 and the bill was placed behind the budget for additional consideration. 

 

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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.

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