Tennessee Government Council Urges Legislature To Give Illegal Immigrant Kids ‘Legal’ Status At 18

A change would unlock taxpayer-funded lawyers, college, and car repairs for illegals who came out of foster system
Mexicans Illegally Crossing the US Border
Credit: Photo by David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images.

A Tennessee government council is asking the state legislature to give certain illegal immigrants taxpayer-funded college tuition payments, vehicle repairs, and legal representation.

The Tennessee Youth Transitions Advisory Council, created by the legislature to help the state with foster care, called in its annual report for the Tennessee General Assembly to consider giving legal status to illegal immigrant children so that they could be qualified for extended foster care services. This means that illegal immigrants 18 or older would be given access to taxpayer-funded legal, educational, and health benefits currently only available to state citizens. 

“Currently, youth who were undocumented upon being brought into foster care are granted special immigrant juvenile status while in care but are not permitted to receive [extended foster care services],” the council wrote in its 2023 report. “The Tennessee General Assembly should explore options to rectify this discrepancy in treatment, including reclassification of these youth as qualified legal aliens.”

The proposal to extend foster care services to illegal immigrants comes as Tennessee has faced criticism over a shortage of available beds for foster care children, as well as reports that illegal immigrants released into the country by the Biden administration plan to make their way to the Volunteer State.

Free services would be available to illegal immigrant adults who came out of the foster system if the General Assembly takes the council’s advice. Those services can include financial assistance for health care, tutoring,  educational fees, driver’s testing fees, car insurance, car repairs, household furnishings, housing-related fees, and even child care assistance, according to the report.

Screenshot of Tennessee Youth Transitions Advisory Council report / The Daily Wire

“Transitioning youth throughout the state need assistance resolving legal issues, including housing, such as leases and evictions; family legal issues, such as child custody or divorce; and potential criminal activities,” the report said. “The Tennessee Bar Association and Access to Justice should establish a pro bono legal services program geared toward 18-24-year-olds who need assistance.”

This would mean that Tennessee taxpayers would potentially have to foot the bill for an illegal immigrant’s defense lawyers if he committed a crime like rape or murder between the ages of 18 and 24 after being given extended foster care services. 

Top state lawmakers told The Daily Wire that the General Assembly has no intention to take up the recommendation and that state support of the council might need to be evaluated.

“The council’s report is misguided and lacks any understanding of the current immigration issue in America,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton told The Daily Wire. “A qualified legal alien is here lawfully — obviously an illegal immigrant is not here lawfully. The general assembly will not pass or even consider this recommendation, however, we will thoroughly examine if this council needs to exist or be sunset.”

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson also called the legislation misguided and said that the Senate had no intention to follow the recommendation.

“There is absolutely no appetite in the Senate to consider this misguided recommendation which would take resources away from Tennessee children in our country legally,” Johnson told The Daily Wire. “It is bad policy to change the immigration status of undocumented children in [Department of Children’s Services] custody, and it will not happen in Tennessee.”

Other recommendations for the advisory council say that children who age out of the foster care system should remain on TennCare and have their tuition fees waived at higher education institutions in the state. 

The advisory council is chaired by Cory Bradfield, currently a program director at the Tennessee Department of Health and a previous legislative aide for former Democratic state lawmaker Beverly Marrero. 

“The recommendations included in the report are from a variety of stakeholders,” Bradfield told The Daily Wire when asked about the work of the council. “The meetings of the Youth Transitions Advisory Council are open to the public. We welcome any interested Tennessean to join the work to provide and improve extension of foster care services and support to all children aging out of foster care.”

A bill that would have dissolved the Tennessee Commission on Youth and Children, which is in charge of the council, was proposed last year with the support of Governor Bill Lee, but was withdrawn after backlash. At the time, Johnson said that he still was concerned about the commission’s “lack of accountability to taxpayers through the legislative oversight process.”

The number of unaccompanied minors from other countries who have made it into the United States has skyrocketed in recent years, with some lawmakers and watchdogs suspecting that adults are using children to cross the border in order to be more likely to be paroled. These children are often then discarded and left by the adults who use them as effective passports to enter the country. 

A Nashville judge recently approved a settlement between a group called Advocates for Immigrant Rights and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, in which Tennessee agreed to provide immigration services to foreign-born children in the foster care system, including those in the United States illegally. 

The settlement compels Tennessee to help children get special immigrant juvenile status, which would give them an easier pathway to legal residency in the United States. Advocates for Immigrant Rights is headed up by Casey Bryant, who is also on the executive committee for the LGBT Section of the Tennessee Bar Association. 

Critics say it may incentivize more illegal immigration as it appears to make the default position of the state that all illegal immigrants under the age of 18 are put on the path toward legal residency in the United States. DCS did not respond to requests to comment on the settlement.  

The settlement requires the state to refer all illegal alien children to immigration advocates and requires the state to “work with an available network of nonprofit organizations and immigration attorneys statewide … who are willing and able to serve the specialized needs of undocumented children in DCS custody in their United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and immigration court proceedings with the goal that these children receive adequate representation in gaining legal immigration status.” 

In the settlement, Tennessee agrees to prioritize the case of older kids because they are more likely to age out of the system and could be eligible for deportation. 

Advocates for Immigrant Rights is a group that is devoted to stopping and delaying deportations and defending illegal immigrants who have been placed into Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, typically meaning that they have been charged with a serious crime. 

The group also appeals for illegals who have had their applications to stay in the United States denied. 

“For people whose applications have been denied by an Immigration Judge, we can appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and argue that the Immigration Judge’s decision was wrong,” the group says. “This process can last for a few months for people in detention and can last a few years for people who are not detained. We also help people to appeal a BIA decision to the federal court.”

The report recommendations come as the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth reported that “one in seven Tennessee children are part of an immigrant family.”

Other aspects of the council’s report also indicate that the council has adopted a politicized approach to certain issues. For example, the report says that both children who identify as LGBT and illegal immigrant children face a harder time transitioning out of foster care than other children.

“We recognize that these transitions can bring added barriers for certain segments of the youth population – those with disabilities, those in the LGBTQ+ community, those with behavioral health needs and those who are undocumented or have uncertain citizenship status,” the report said. “The goal of the Youth Transitions Advisory Council is to be welcoming and inclusive to all youth, and to always be particularly sensitive to the unique challenges that these youth face.”

The report added that Tennessee should “improve work around LGBT population and immigrant populations.” 

The advisory council highlighted different non-profits that are promoted by the state, including the East Tennessee-based McNabb Center. They used to have programs titled Manhood 2.0 and Sisters Saving Sisters, but these programs were renamed after complaints from LGBT people and they adopted a “gender neutral program name.”

Another one of the groups Tennessee promotes is the South Memphis Alliance, a group that says “strong communities promote stable families.” One of the local partners of the group is Planned Parenthood of the Greater MidSouth.

During its feature on the South Memphis Alliance’s website, abortion is listed as one of the services provided. 

South Memphis Alliance website.


Bradfield, the advisory council official, said it has no financial or contractual ties to the South Memphis Alliance.

The council appears to be full of political figures. Another person acknowledged in the report from the state council is Carlos Hawkins, a worker with Youth Villages whose social media history is full of anti-Trump rhetoric. On January 6, 2021, he said that “every single GOP member that took part in this attempted assassination of democracy” needed to step down from office while another message said “f*** Donald trump.”

He also retweeted a post blaming a group of self-described neo-Nazis marching through Nashville on state leadership. Another recent post laughed at a comment referring to Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn as a “bi*ch ass wife.”

Hawkins’ social media was restricted after The Daily Wire reached out to Youth Villages for comment which said that Hawkins’ views did not reflect the organization.

“The opinions expressed by one of our employees on social media do not reflect the views of our organization,” Youth Villages told The Daily Wire. “We have thousands of employees, and there’s an expectation that no one blurs the line between their official capacity and their personal views. Youth Villages remains focused on helping children and families.”

Johnson, the Senate Majority Leader, told The Daily Wire that Tennessee’s Republican supermajority was focused on countering illegal immigration by working with Gov. Bill Lee to send National Guard troops to the southern border, and by working on implementing policy to deter illegal immigrants from coming to Tennessee.

“We have banned sanctuary cities in Tennessee and cracked down on illegal immigrants receiving public benefits,” he said. “Tennessee’s message to illegal immigrants is clear: do not come here.”

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The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Tennessee Government Council Urges Legislature To Give Illegal Immigrant Kids ‘Legal’ Status At 18