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State expects Chattanooga migrant children shelter's license to be suspended into fall

Todd Gardenhire
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, asks a question during a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. The special session was called by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to pass liability reforms to protect businesses from lawsuits prompted by reopening after the coronavirus quarantine. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Mark Humphrey/AP

State expects Chattanooga migrant children shelter’s license to be suspended into fall

August 13, 08:05 AM August 13, 08:05 AM

A closed shelter in Chattanooga again was the focus Thursday for much of the Tennessee Legislature’s Study Committee on Refugee Issues meeting.

Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jennifer Nichols said the home, run by the Georgia-based Baptiste Group, remains under suspension as the Baptiste Group appeals its license suspension in chancery court.

Tennessee suspended the Baptiste Group’s license to operate La Casa de Sydney after a sexual battery arrest at the facility perpetrated against migrant children. A second arrest on a similar charge later took place.

“We expect that to last well into the fall, if not further,” Nichols said. “There are no children (there) and can be no children there because of the stay.”

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, reminded the group he has 110 constituents who worked at the facility and will be unemployed until the court process is over and the home can be reopened.

Rick Musacchio, director of communications for the Diocese of Nashville, also testified before the committee Thursday, giving a presentation about Catholic Charities’ involvement with refugee programs.

Musacchio cited a 2013 report from Fiscal Review Committee that showed $1.38 billion came into the state between 1990 and 2012 because of refugees in the state. The total amounted to $633 million more than those refugees used in state services.

Musacchio made it clear the church was involved with only legal immigrants in its programs.

Committee co-chair and state Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, closed the meeting by noting he believed, at the outset, an overnight flight into Chattanooga with refugees onboard May 28 was a one-off.

Howell said he now believes at least five different flights came into Tennessee – in Chattanooga and Knoxville – with unaccompanied minor immigrants. Howell read a statement from an anonymous acquaintance about a May 12 commercial flight from San Antonio to Chattanooga that the acquaintance believed had a dozen unaccompanied minors on board who left the airport in two rental vans headed to the Chattanooga Baptiste facility.

The eyewitness didn’t want to be named, Howell said, because of “cancel culture.”

Howell also said he received several reports of similar incidents in Knoxville and printed out a TV station report on one such incident for the committee.

“It upsets me that taxpayers in this state are paying for services and we don’t know what is going on,” said Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City, who said the federal government should be telling Tennessee officials and residents what is going on with refugees and immigrants brought into the state.

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