How the U.S. government responds to tens of thousands of children crossing the U.S. border could cause a ripple effect in East Tennessee.
It boils down to a funding issue.
NBC reports border patrol resources are strained as they deal with more than 50,000 children who have arrived in the United States this year, many coming from Central American countries. That number represents just the children traveling alone, while tens of thousands more traveled with families.
Detention centers in Southern states are bursting at the seams trying to accommodate the influx of people, and leaders in Washington are now debating their next move.
"The Office of Refugee Resettlement was funded to help seven thousand minors, and it's like, 90,000. It's crisis mode," said Jennifer Cornwell, who serves as the Executive Director of BRIDGE Refugee Services in Knoxville. BRIDGE helps resettle those who fall under the legal definition of "refugee," which includes people who have fled or been forced to leave their countries to escape violence, persecution or natural disaster.
She says it is difficult to "define" the children crossing the border.
"They're not economic migrants, they're not coming for a job. They're three and four [years old]. They're not coming for a job but because they need to for a reason," she said.
"Most of them have suffered sexual assault, they're preyed on by gangs, smugglers, traffickers... so its a very serious situation for these kids."
President Obama is asking Congress for $2 billion to address this issue, but the Tennessean reports that funding would be a reallocation from existing resources.
"The program that funds BRIDGE and all the refugee resettlement agencies all around the U.S. is also responsible for caring for unaccompanied minors," Cornwell explained. "The problem, when it comes to an agency like mine, is the budgeting. It's helping both groups at the same time. And that's the fundamental issue: they're reallocating money that was committed to refugees to unaccompanied minors."
Holly Johnson, the state refugee coordinator for the Tennessee Office of Refugees, told the Tennessean the state could lose more than $1.6 million, jeopardizing refugee health and education support programs.
Cornwell says her budget follows the federal calender, which starts a new fiscal year in October.
"I've been waiting on pins and needles, to find out when, [and] what is going to happen to all my different grants," she said.
"What we want to see, is a humanitarian response to the unaccompanied minors," she added. "But we also want to remain committed to refugees, and we want the budget to reflect that. So while more money needs to be allocated for this crisis, for these unaccompanied minors, we don't want it taken from refugees."