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19,000 unaccompanied migrant children have come to Tenn. since 2015; most ended up with family

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19,000 unaccompanied migrant children have come to Tenn. since 2015; most ended up with family

Jun 11, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By Adam Friedman
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19,000 unaccompanied migrant children have come to Tenn. since 2015, most ended up with family
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Migrant children coming to Tennessee are ending up primarily in Davidson and Rutherford Counties. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Almost 19,000 unaccompanied migrant children have crossed the United States border and ended up in Tennessee since 2015.

Most of the children coming to the state have been placed with family members like a parent or sibling, with a vast majority arriving since the coronavirus pandemic.

The placement of unaccompanied migrant children made headlines in Tennessee three years ago when news reports emerged of the abuse of some of the children placed in a Chattanooga facility.

There were also news reports of a late-night flight to Chattanooga transporting children to Tennessee around the same time, prompting many state Republican leaders to express concern over the lack of transparency from the federal government about the children’s presence.

The unaccompanied children have ended in many of the state’s counties, but slightly less than half have ended up in the two Middle Tennessee counties home to Nashville (6,926 children) and Murfreesboro (1,112).

This data comes from New York Times obtained from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after filing a lawsuit. It was released to the public at the end of the year. The data covers documented unaccompanied minors crossing the border between Jan. 1, 2015, and May 28, 2023.

The Times used this information to publish a series of stories revealing how many of the children who crossed the border without their parents ended up working in brutal jobs, such as food processing plants making Cheetos and Lucky Charms, often in violation of child labor laws. In Tennessee, The Times discovered a 12-year-old migrant child working as a roofer.

The newspaper’s articles were honored with the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in May.

The placing of migrant children

Since 2021, nearly 400,000 children have crossed the U.S. border without their parents, with most fleeing countries suffering from economic turmoil.

A vast majority of these children are from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. This trend is also reflected in Tennessee, where 96% of the unaccompanied migrant children come from those three countries.