Church World Service is involved in an action of civil disobedience at the White House this week, as the Congress and US administration consider expediting deportations of refugee children, said a release today. CWS is a longstanding ecumenical humanitarian organization, of which the Church of the Brethren is a member denomination.
CWS is asking supporters to call Congress to urge passage of a “clean” supplemental funding bill responding to the situation of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, said a separate release. The agency is asking for support to increase funding for refugee resettlement and reject rollbacks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. “The Senate bill, S. 2648 would provide adequate funding to serve the children and fully replenish the $94 million of refugee social services funding that was recently reprogrammed,” said the release. “But the House bill would replenish only $47 million of the refugee funding cuts and contains negative policy provisions that would deport children to unsafe situations.” (Go to tiny.cc/ProtectKids and www.cwsglobal.org/uac ).
A recent memo to member churches from CWS president John L. McCullough outlined a number of ways the organization is involved in aiding unaccompanied child refugees, and gives updated background information on the crisis.
Action at the White House
The action of civil disobedience is planned for tomorrow, July 31, at 12 noon in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., on the north side of the White House. The CWS release said that some 100 faith leaders and 30 immigrant rights activists from across the country plan to risk arrest to demand that President Barack Obama end his immigration enforcement policies.
“Bishops, nuns, rabbis, pastors, workers, and impacted immigrants will hold a 12 p.m. prayer service and press conference in Lafayette Park to urge the President to stop deportations immediately, dramatically expand relief for America’s immigrant families and workers, and protect unaccompanied children who have sought refuge in the US,” said the release. “Alongside a crowd of more than 500 supporters, 130 faith and immigrant advocates will then engage in civil disobedience along the White House fence to bring moral clarity on the injustice of 1,100 deportations per day.”
In addition to CWS, sponsors include the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ (UCC), Disciples Home Missions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), CASA de Maryland, Bend the Arc, the Unitarian Universalists Association, Sisters of Mercy, and the PICO National Network. Prominent leaders who plan to risk arrest include United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño, Linda Jaramillo who is executive minister of the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, Sharon Stanley-Rea who directs the Refugee and Immigration Ministries of the Disciples Home Missions, and CWS president John L. McCullough, among others.
CWS efforts for unaccompanied refugee children
“While the issue of immigration remains somewhat contentious for many Americans, what we hold in common is concern for the welfare of children,” McCullough wrote in a July 23 memo to CWS member communions. “How children are best protected may be open for public debate, but their vulnerability demands that we respond, before resolving matters of policy, to the first priority of making sure that they are in safe and caring environments and not placed in or returned to situations that could cause them undue harm.
“This crisis is not new,” said the memo. “Unaccompanied children have been arriving for several years now, and some of them are already due in court and need representation. Church World Service has already issued an appeal that will enable it to offer that assistance on a pro-bono basis. For those whose cases are denied and for whom CWS believes appeals are in order, our legal staff will pursue that direction.
“CWS encourages communions and local congregations to contact our local and affiliate offices directly to ascertain ways in which they can offer assistance.”
Brethren Disaster Ministries is working on a grant from the Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund to help with the CWS appeal for $309,818 to meet urgent and immediate needs of unaccompanied refugee children in the US.
Information shared in the CWS memo
— The number of unaccompanied children entering the US has grown to more than 57,000, up from 27,884 children for all of fiscal year 2013. Nearly 200 are reported to be crossing daily into the US. Almost three-quarters of all immigrants from Central America are crossing the border in the Rio Grande Valley on the Gulf Coast of Texas.
— In addition to extreme poverty, these children and also some families, are fleeing drastic increases in gang-related violence and their governments’ inability or unwillingness to protect them. On their way to the US, many report experiencing extreme violence, extortion, and even torture. Some children are as young as five, and teenage girls are encouraged to take a “precautionary contraceptive” before their journey as reports of rape are common.
— Once they cross into the US, the children are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection, which legally can hold children for 72 hours after which they are moved to temporary shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). ORR places children in the care of family members already residing in the US, or with foster care families or detention facilities.
— Children receive a “Notice to Appear” in Immigration Court where a judge will determine if the child will be deported or remain in the US–often through the asylum process or on a special immigrant juvenile visa that is available to children who have been abused or neglected by a parent. As Immigration Courts are currently backlogged, children often stay with family or in a foster home or in detention for an extended period of time.
— As soon as possible after processing and health screening, ORR makes an effort to release children to relatives they may have in the US. The children travel to their relatives with a “Notice to Appear” before immigration authorities and are placed in “removal proceedings.” Once in their temporary destination, they need legal, emotional, education, and other assistance.
— ORR has experienced serious pressure on its budget as the number of unaccompanied children has escalated. ORR has re-programmed $94 million in social service assistance to the Refugee Resettlement Program. The Obama administration has asked Congress for emergency funding of $3.7 billion to help support the Department of Homeland Security, ORR, State Department, and the Immigration Courts. The supplemental appropriation will focus on increasing immigration court capacity and expanding law enforcement that targets criminal networks, both in the US and in Central America. The additional funding also will be used to bolster foreign cooperation to help with repatriation and reintegration into Central America and to increase the capacity of the US to provide detainment care and transportation for these children.
— CWS is receiving troubling reports that in some instances after initial screening, DHS is dealing with the volume of this crisis by dropping off women and children in potentially vulnerable spaces, such as bus stops and parking lots. More than 50 children and women reportedly were dropped off in a Yuma, Ariz., parking lot where faith communities have begun working together to provide them with housing, clothing, and food, and are helping coordinate bus tickets for the women and children to reach relatives elsewhere in the US to await the court dates that will determine if they can stay or will be deported.
The CWS response
The CWS response is carried out through its Immigration and Refugee Program. CWS will deploy Spanish-speaking legal staff to Lackland Air force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where a large number of children are held for processing. This will be done in partnership with legal service agencies with access to the facility. The CWS staff will interview children and their families, offer “know-your-rights” briefings, and help individuals understand the sequence of events they must follow to apply for protection. Plans are for CWS staff to spend up to 21 days interviewing approximately 8 cases a day.
CWS currently offers spiritual care in a detention facility in Artesia, N.M., formerly Artesia Christian College–a DHS “family detention facility” where children who are accompanied by a parent or a sibling are placed. Until further notice, CWS has moved its chaplain from Port Isabel, Texas, to Artesia. CWS hopes to establish a similar presence in other detention centers.
Another phase of the response is an effort by CWS local and affiliate offices to provide aid to children who are placed temporarily with relatives in the US, who have a “Notice to Appear” before immigration authorities and are in “removal proceedings.”
CWS also is exploring the possibility of convening an ecumenical roundtable for ongoing collaboration, “because support for unaccompanied children will be needed for the next several years,” McCullough’s memo notes.
For more information about the work of Church World Service go to www.cwsglobal.org .