Tennessee Governor Bill Lee Sunday called the recent increase in the number of migrants trying to cross to America “overwhelming” after his trip to the country’s southern border.
The governor’s visit comes after several senior federal officials visited the border as the number of migrants has risen since President Joe Biden took office. Republicans across the country have taken hold of the issue and criticized the Biden administration for failing to get a handle on potential security risks.
Lee said the numbers had increased in recent months, which he said led to an increase in criminal activities such as sex, human trafficking and drug trafficking. Migrants came from 56 countries, he said.
“We haven’t seen the movement of people from overseas countries,” he said. “As the outbreak increases, all criminal activity increases.… It has all increased, and that is why we have a particular crisis today that is unique from years past.”
Federal data show higher monthly encounters between border officers and migrants at the border than in recent years. More than 180,000 meetings were held in May, the most in the past four years, according to the data.
Lee said the peaks represent “a significant change” that has contributed to the current border crisis. But he declined to name specific numbers of migrants crossing during Sunday’s press conference.
The governor said there had been a change of “priority” after Biden took office. But he did not specify any major political differences between the Biden administration and the administration of former President Donald Trump.
“President Trump has always talked about this as a top priority, and that’s one of the things I will be pushing for the Biden administration; it can make it a top priority,” he said.
Tennessee has 300 soldiers of the State National Guard stationed at the southern border, providing air and ground surveillance, technology assistance and maintenance, Lee said on Sunday. They are not involved in the apprehension of migrants, he said.
The troops are funded by the federal Title 10 program, but they are deployed at the discretion of the state, Lee said. When asked if he would accept private funds to send the troops, Lee didn’t rule out the idea.
“What we’re going to do is look at all the options on how to provide support there,” he said. “But nothing is out of place.”
A foundation based in Williamson County has provided funds for South Dakota to send troops to the southern border for 30 to 60 days.
Lee’s visit to the southern border came nine months after the troops arrived on October 1. They include:
- Members of the 269th Military Police Company who help train law enforcement and complement the police presence at the border;
- Engineers from the 913th Company, who are involved in road construction and border wall projects; and
- The 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment, which assists customs and border protection.
Lee previously said troops would stay there “as long as there is a crisis.” His office said the troops’ current mission would last throughout the exercise, which means they could return in October.
The governor was accompanied by Major General Jeff Holmes, Adjutant General of the Tennessee National Guard.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in Tennessee are demanding more transparency from the Biden administration on its handling of unaccompanied migrant minors delivered to states.
They formed an all-Republican joint study committee on refugee issues after the release this spring of reports that said planes carrying unaccompanied minors land in Chattanooga. The committee will meet a second time on Tuesday to discuss the number of minors received and the reception process.
Resettlement of refugees – a controlled group of people who fled their home countries for fear of lawsuits, natural disasters or war – began in America in 1980. The practice has remained in place under former President Donald Trump , and his administration has seen the largest number of unaccompanied minors. Tennessee received in a single year – 2,191 – in 2019.
Also under the Trump administration, a state-approved facility was established in Chattanooga in May 2020 to house unaccompanied migrant minors.
Lee argued that the Biden administration secretly sent unaccompanied minors and demanded more transparency about communications with the Trump administration.
But Lee’s administration has not provided proof that no young migrants were transported to Tennessee under Trump. Lee spokesperson Laine Arnold told the Tennessean state had ‘no reason to believe’ unaccompanied minors were secretly flown under Trump.
The Department of Health and Human Services under the Biden administration remains discreet on the issue of refugees. He did not respond to Tennessean’s questions about the flights and the resettlement process for young migrants.
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