Response to Unaccompanied Migrant Children Continues

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Attention continues to be given to the influx of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) crossing the borders into the United States. This year, more than 60,000 refugee minors are expected to enter the U.S. from Central America and other regions, and that number is expected to double in 2015.

On May 27, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) announced the launch of a national advocacy campaign, led by youth and young adults, to bring attention to the issue. The “#ActOfLove” campaign urges the White House and lawmakers to designate the situation an emergency and fund it accordingly. Since the launch of that campaign, President Obama ordered federal emergency authorities to take charge of the relief effort, naming the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Craig Fugate, to coordinate a response.

There are several ways for LSA member organizations to be involved. Much of the current response effort is determining the capacity of organizations around the country in a few key areas: professional staffing, volunteers and foster parents, and physical space for residential care. Decisions about longer-term response, including case management, have yet to be made.

Thank you for your concern for the migrant children and families in this humanitarian crisis, and for your participation in the conversations that LIRS has led on a response. We hope that the information shared has been helpful as you consider your own role and that, together, we can find just and compassionate solutions to the deeply vulnerable people seeking safety and protection in our country.

Below is detailed information on the crisis, LIRS’s response, and ways you can help. Also attached is abrochure for foster care.  

The migrant children that have dominated news coverage are required by law to receive a specific level of care due to their specific vulnerability as children. These laws protect the welfare of children at risk for human trafficking and exploitation, but it imposes restrictions on the way communities, volunteers, and service organizations can be involved. Some ways that you can help are:

1. Deploy your staff for short term service at new residential shelters for children. Please email: Kristine Poplawski, KPoplawski@LIRS.org;

2. Recruit and refer foster parents who can provide short-term and/or long-term homes for migrant and refugee children. A brochure for your use is attached and please email: FosterParentInfo@LIRS.org;   

3. Provide physical facilities to be used as reception centers and shelters. Please email: Kristine Poplawski, KPoplawski@LIRS.org or refer to the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s call for proposals, available at: http://www.grants.gov/search-grants.html?agencies%3DHHS%7CDepartment%20of%20Health%20and%20Human%20Services.

Because of legal restrictions in place, FEMA and OR cannot accept volunteers and donations directly, but LIRS can connect you with local partners who can. Please contact Kristine Poplawski,KPoplawski@LIRS.org, if you would like to contribute in that way.

The families crossing the border together face a much harsher reception. Although they are fleeing the same unlivable conditions in their home countries, the federal government has stated that these mothers and children will be incarcerated in detention facilities. These facilities—essentially prisons—are a deeply inappropriate response to the vulnerable families seeking safety and refuge.

LIRS has developed a humane and compassionate alternative to detaining families—they’re already working in seven communities to offer this option to vulnerable individuals who should not be detained. They are trying to make this option available to the migrant families that would otherwise be detained, but in order to respond to the escalating crisis, they need both additional funding and local partners to join this effort. Please contact Julia Coffin, JCoffin@LIRS.org, if you are interested in learning more. Partners should consider their ability to:

Provide a short-term shelter in vacant community space to welcome and receive newly arrived families;

  • Open a reception home to provide long-term communal housing and a safe place for vulnerable families to gain stability as they go through their legal case—generally six months or longer;
  • Provide case management services to support families as they connect with relatives in the United States and/or seek needed services in the community.

LIRS is already working to offer case management services, housing support, and legal aid to vulnerable immigrants who would otherwise be detained in: Austin/San Antonio, Boston, Chicago, New Jersey, Phoenix/Tucson, Seattle, and the Twin Cities. Please contact Julia Coffin, JCoffin@LIRS.org, if you would like ways to connect with that work.

The laws and actions of the federal government will have a huge impact on these children and families, and LIRS is also leading a campaign—the Act of Love Campaign--to urge lawmakers to respond with compassion and courage. This is another way for members of our communities to take action in support of these children by signing a petition, spreading the word across social media, and sending a note of encouragement to an unaccompanied child. You can find out more at: http://lirs.org/actoflove/ or by contacting Chelsea Allison at CAllison@LIRS.org.

Please refer to the attached background document for more information.

Related to the need for residential care, the Office of Refugee Resettlement/Division of Children's Services (ORR/DCS) within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) posted a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) on Friday, June 6, 2014, for the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program. ORR is seeking residential care providers. Care providers must be licensed by an appropriate state agency to provide residential, group, or foster care services for dependent children, including a program operating group homes, foster homes, or facilities for special needs minors. If your agency is interested in providing services to the UAC population, please click on this link for the funding announcement.

If you organization is interested in learning more about the response to the UAC population, please contact Bob Francis at rfrancis@lutheranservices.org.

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