As the nation continues to sort out whether or not the tens of thousands of children who fled violence in Central America will be granted asylum, prominent nativist groups in Tennessee are petitioning to say they are unwelcome in their state. However, the opposition to these asylum-seeking children proves to be more of the same from these groups.
Currently, asylum-seeking children are afforded specific protections under the 2008 Trafficking Victims and Protection Act (TVPRA), which grants unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries to be placed in the care of relatives or shelters until their court hearings. This allows for an extended screening process to determine whether they qualify for asylum, a program that is currently being threatened by the Obama administration.
However, information that Tennessee could potentially be hosting children with conditional refugee status was enough to send the state’s nativist groups into a frenzy. It should be noted that Tennessee already has history of hosting refugees from countries including Iraq and Somalia.
Leading the charge to close the state to the children has been the Middle Tennessee chapter of the anti-Muslim grassroots organization ACT! for America. On Monday, the group issued an alert to its base that refugee resettlement agencies were in talks with the federal government about setting up “emergency shelters” for the children in Tennessee. As expected, ACT! Middle TN was not in favor of such a plan.
The ACT! chapter urged its supporters to contact Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander to oppose any shelters in Tennessee. The alert also called to “secure the border” and halt all refugee resettlement until the border situation is under control. In addition, it called for “no amnesty,” claiming the possibility of passing comprehensive immigration reform was the root cause of this “border surge.” The group also sought to stoke fear of the children by saying gang affiliations and diseases “do not bar” them from entry. Claiming these children have ties to gangs and will cause a public health crisis continue to be among talking points championed by anti-Muslim activists and conservative media outlets.
The action alert was echoed by the Tennessee Eagle Forum as well as the Tennessee Freedom Coalition. All three groups have a history of collaborating to host anti-Muslim events.
The vehemently anti-refugee blog Refugee Resettlement Watch added to the denunciation of Tennessee’s potential role in housing the children. In a July 6 post, the site’s founder Ann Corcoran likened the refugee resettlement agency’s efforts to animal hoarding.
“These people remind me of animal hoarders with a psychological ailment who fill their homes with cats, don’t have the finances to care for them properly, and don’t know when to stop,” she wrote.
Of course, opposing humanitarian relief for refugees is par for the course with these groups. Each of these organizations continues to be at the forefront in Tennessee pushing their nativist agenda to curb refugee programs and immigration. For example, Tennessee ACT! member Joanne Bregman helped draft legislation strengthening local government’s role in the refugee process in order to sway policy in their favor.
Another hurdle facing the state of Tennessee is that funding to help the asylum-seeking children may be taken from policies already in place aiding refugees already living in the state. ACT! Middle Tennessee and its allies were quick to highlight this in order to support their case. However, according to Mark Hetfield of the refugee resettlement agency HIAS, the government should not make the state to pick and choose who receives humanitarian funding.
“It is crucial for the U.S. government to show leadership in addressing the needs of unaccompanied children without diluting its commitment to other asylum seekers and refugees,” Hetfield said in a press release. “The Administration and Congress should not be pitting the interests of resettled refugees directly against those of migrant children.”
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