Tennessee’s two Republican senators and Gov. Bill Lee are demanding a response from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on its plans to transport illegal immigrants from New Orleans to the state in a letter sent on Tuesday.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) posted her frustration with the agency’s lack of transparency, stating “ICE can respond to media requests about trafficking illegal immigrants to Tennessee, but won’t get back to us with information about who they are dropping off in our state.”
However, Blackburn said on Fox News Wednesday the plan is to have “50 at a time” and “at least two buses, maybe more, every single week” into Tennessee.
The agency responded to a request for more information by The Epoch Times with additional information on their plan, noting illegal immigrants had not yet been moved into the state.
The agency told The Epoch Times it has not transported noncitizens for release to Tennessee yet, but officials are in communication with the relevant nongovernmental organizations (NGO) in Nashville, which have volunteered to “assist with noncitizens that may be transported to the Nashville area.”
“Noncitizens apprehended and determined to need custodial supervision are placed in detention facilities and those released from secure custody are part of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) non-detained docket,” an ICE spokesperson said in an email. “ERO officers weigh a variety of factors when making general custody determinations, including criminal record, immigration history, community ties, flight risk, and whether the individual poses a potential threat to public safety.”
The spokesperson added noncitizens placed on ICE’s non-detained docket are enrolled in the agency’s “Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program.” The ATD uses technology, case management, and other tools to manage compliance of individuals with their release conditions.
ICE had no further information to release to The Epoch Times as of Wednesday afternoon.
ICE Coordination With NGOs in Nashville
ICE’s ERO officials anticipate the NGO community will primarily help with hotel and onward movement of the illegal immigrants, officials stated.
ICE would not release information on the NGOs they were partnering with, but the letter sent by Blackburn and Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) to ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson identifies the group as the Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC).
“We have learned that the New Orleans ICE field office has been working in coordination with TIRRC, a left-wing immigration advocacy group, to bus these immigrants to Tennessee,” the senators said in their letter. “We have learned that as many as 50 single-adult, detained illegal immigrants could be bused to Tennessee at a time, with the possibility of multiple busloads each week. Further, these individuals would be released into Tennessee while they await court proceedings.”
The senators say they are troubled by the report and request more information given “previous instances of ICE busing immigrants to Tennessee without notice.”
TIRRC wrote on Twitter the Department of Homeland Security had listened to “what local organizations and communities have been demanding.”
“DHS took steps to provide more transparency and better coordination to get folks home for the holidays,” the organization wrote on Twitter. “We cannot allow for disinformation, fear, and partisanship to dictate how we treat other human beings. Shame on Gov. Bill Lee’s office for not showing Tennessee’s values of family, integrity, and welcoming others.”
The organization said they, along with other Tennesseans, local organizations, and faith communities are “ready to rise to the opportunity by leading with values and welcoming with dignity.”
TIRRC did not respond to an emailed request for comment by press time.
The governor’s office said notices from the Biden administration on Monday are the first time federal officials have notified the state of plans to relocate “single adult detainees into Tennessee,” adding they have received no further details.
“We know that ICE is seeking to move these single adult detainees to Tennessee, as the federal government is overwhelmed by the continued flood of people and drugs illegally moving across the nation’s border,” a representative for the governor’s office said in an email. “As you may have seen, ICE has said they are working with the TIRRC in Nashville. However, the federal government still has not provided real transparency into the vetting process or included answers as to when, where and how many illegal migrants they intend to transport to Tennessee. We continue to demand answers and demand they change this plan.”
Lee said on Fox News Wednesday morning that “this is something new for Tennessee,” adding the Biden administration “is requiring Tennesseans to pay the price for their failures.
“Tennesseans are already paying a huge price in the way of fentanyl deaths and trafficking—we’re already paying a price,” he said. “But now we’re being asked to pay a greater price for the failure at the border and we can’t take that much longer. Americans can’t take this much longer.”
ICE’s Reasoning Behind Releasing Illegal Immigrants in Tennessee
ICE explained Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) screens and vets all migrants encountered at the border against public safety databases, and “any migrants who may pose a threat to national security or public safety are detained.”
The agency said as part of contingency planning they notify local and state-level officials when they are coordinating with local NGOs that intend to offer support to noncitizens.
The agency says those released through ATD must be 18 years of age or older, effectively removable from the United States, and in some stage of the immigration process.
Those released pending court proceedings must provide an address and “follow strict reporting requirements.”
ICE says it verifies address information for those referred for evaluation and enrollment into the ATD Program. However, if the information provided contains conflicting information or is identifiable with a nongovernmental organization (NGO) site: “ICE defaults to only the city and state of a noncitizen’s self-identified destination. This only occurs if the given address cannot be verified.”
The ATD is currently available in over 300 locations around the nation, the agency stated. Levels of supervision are based upon criteria such as current immigration status, criminal history, compliance history, community or family ties, being a caregiver or provider, medical conditions, and other humanitarian factors.
“Those who do not have a supporter in the U.S. may provide the address of an NGO or other location in their destination city that may not be a residential address,” ICE explains. “CBP is required to make every effort to confirm that the address provided by the migrant is a valid/verifiable address.”
ERO is tasked with processing and monitoring all cases, regardless of detainment status, as they are moved through immigration court. The agencies explain those enrolled in ATD check in with a deportation officer on a regular basis based on their level of supervision.
Removal proceedings and due process is administered by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice that is separate from DHS and ICE, officials explained.
“Immigration judges in these courts make decisions based on the merits of each individual case and ICE officers carry out the removal decisions made by the federal immigration judges. DHS has continued to implement a comprehensive strategy to address the number of border encounters—the strategy includes delivering a more efficient and fair immigration process, while processing and removing those who do not have valid claims to remain in the U.S.”
Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti said Tuesday the state should not be forced to bear the burden of the “federal government’s ongoing failure to secure the border,” adding he is exploring all options to respond to the Biden administration’s plan. His office on Wednesday said in an email they had no further comment at this time.
The Epoch Times also reached out to Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s office to see how the city was planning for the illegal immigrants but did not hear back before publication. Tennessee’s Attorney General had no further comment at this time.