NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is calling the surge in migrants attempting to cross the U.S. southern border an overwhelming crisis and security risk following the Republican’s weekend trip to visit 300 Tennessee National Guard members engaged in supporting U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations in Texas.
During a Sunday night conference call with reporters, Lee criticized President Joe Biden’s administration, complaining there had been a change in priorities since Donald Trump left office. Lee said he sees no comprehensive strategy by Biden to address problems.
“What we need from my view is an overall strategy,” Lee said, echoing criticisms made by federal-level GOP politicians, including U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee. “There’s not really a strategy for the security of the border from a national level, and we need to have that.”
The governor said that if one is implemented, “I think we’ll see the surges back off and the criminal activity back off.”
Lee mentioned the border wall effort from Trump as a solution but cited no other specifics on curtailing the surge. Lee said his flights viewing the border from above illustrate the complexity of the terrain and the difficulty for enforcement.
Combining technology with “an actual border wall or actual border facility that stops people from moving is more powerfully effective,” Lee said.
Federal border enforcement figures from May 2021 show 180,034 encounters with people attempting illegal entry compared to 23,000 in May 2020 and 144,000 in May 2019.
Lee said it’s not just people from Central and South America. Tennessee National Guard personnel have had encounters with people from 56 countries across the globe, the governor said, highlighting the security risk.
In the past, Lee said, “we didn’t see the movement of people from countries overseas. As the surge increases, all criminal activities increase.”
He added, “That’s why we have a particular crisis today that’s unique from years past.”
He also said the problem of drug trafficking, human trafficking and sex trafficking “is real at the southern border.” And Lee said Biden should borrow a page from Trump and make stemming the flow of people a “top priority.”
Accused of posturing
State Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, a Chattanooga Democrat, said in an interview Monday he believes Lee “has enough concerns in the state of Tennessee to have him here as opposed to posturing at the border. I would hope that he finds himself back in the state of Tennessee soon so that he can deal with the concerns we have in Tennessee in areas such as health care, making sure that people are fed in our communities and have a place to stay.”
The lawmaker also said the Trump administration had its own crisis at the border, calling it “unfortunate” that Lee would adopt such an attitude “knowing that the Biden administration has only been in place for six months and failing to understand [Biden administration officials] are working with the countries that these people are coming from to better the environment that they come from so their people would not be coming to our border.”
Hakeem added that “I don’t know if he’s implying or inferring that we should put children in cages or have them hungry like it was under the Trump administration to deter people from coming. But the reality is that it did not deter people, neither under the Trump administration nor the Biden adminstration.”
Tennessee National Guard forces in Texas include the 269th Military Policy Company, which augments law enforcement by conducting training and maintaining a presence along the border as well as the 913th Engineer Company, which has been involved in road and wall-building efforts.
The Guard’s 2-151 Aviation Battalion is providing air support of U.S. Customs and Border Protection forces as well. Tennessee Adjutant General Jeffrey Holmes joined Lee on the tour.
The issue of migrants has put Tennessee GOP legislators into political overdrive with an all-Republican joint House and Senate committee scheduled to convene Tuesday for its second meeting on unaccompanied migrant children coming into the state.
The issue was thrust onto the political burner following WRCB reports about unaccompanied minors coming into Tennessee with the focus on children and youths coming to the Baptiste Group’s shelter in Chattanooga under a federal contract.
After weeks of controversy and an escape from the facility by one teenage boy, state Children’s Services personnel inspected the facility. A second male, 17, alleged that a female worker at the facility kissed him in the facility’s shower room and the child’s bedroom. She has been charged.
State officials also suspended the Baptiste Group’s license. The group is appealing that, appearing last week before a state administration law judge who closed the hearing to the public. A decision expected sometime this week.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.