June 29, 2010 STATEMENT — The HELP Separated Children Act Would Protect Children and Families Impacted by Immigration Enforcement

Press Contact: Stacy Martin, Vice President for Mission Advacement
410-230-2847, lirspress@lirs.org

BALTIMORE, June 29, 2010 — Last week, Senators Franken (D-MN) and Kohl (D-WI), joined by Senators Menendez (D-NJ), Klobuchar (D-MN), Feingold (D-WI), Durbin (D-IL), and Feinstein (D-CA), introduced S. 3522, the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections for Separated Children Act (HELP Separated Children Act). The proposed legislation would provide important protections to children and families impacted by immigration enforcement actions. In July 2009, Representative Woolsey (D-CA-6) introduced similar legislation, H.R. 3531.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates that it will detain over 440,000 immigrants in FY2011, more than twice the number of individuals detained in FY 2001. Many of the immigrants DHS arrests and detains have U.S. citizen children who are at risk of being separated and left with no one to care for them. According to a 2009 Pew Research Center study, 4 million U.S. citizen children live in families with at least one undocumented parent, an increase from 2.7 million in 2003.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) urges members of Congress to support the HELP Separated Children Act. Linda Hartke, President and CEO of LIRS stated, “Without a significant change in U.S. policies, immigration enforcement actions will continue to put children at risk, divide families and drive other immigrants even further into the shadows. LIRS and our broad network of social ministry organizations, churches and church leaders remain committed to working with Congress and the administration to ensure U.S. immigration policies uphold family unity and our country’s fundamental values.”

LIRS is deeply concerned that current U.S. immigration policies increasingly separate families, particularly families with children. In May 2008, DHS conducted an immigration raid of the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, apprehending 389 immigrant workers, nearly 20 percent of the town’s population. Many of the families affected by the raid sought help through a local Hispanic ministry program. Lutheran volunteers regularly visited the program to serve food, provide child care, bring immigrants to their immigration appointments and offer them spiritual support. Following the raid, LIRS and the Rev. Dr. Steven Ullestad, bishop of the Northeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), issued a statement calling on the administration to prioritize the protection of families and children during enforcement actions. To date, limited progress has been made to address these concerns.

The HELP Separated Children Act would require DHS to allow licensed social workers, case workers employed by a child welfare agency or local non-government organizations to screen individuals apprehended to determine if they have children in the United States. If they have children in the United States, the bill would compel DHS to consider the welfare of their children before making a decision regarding the detention, release, and transfer of the parents. If DHS decides that the parents must be detained, detention facilities must provide them with regular, confidential phone calls to help them arrange for the care of their children who have been left behind. Finally, if the parents are to be deported, the bill would provide the parents with adequate time to secure the necessary travel documents if their children will accompany them on their return to their country of origin.

Since 1939 LIRS has assisted and advocated on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, migrants in detention, families fractured by migration, and other vulnerable populations. LIRS is the national agency established by Lutheran church bodies in the United States to carry out the churches’ ministry with uprooted people and provides services to migrants and refugees through over 60 legal and social service partners. LIRS is a cooperative agency of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (LELCA), whose members comprise over 7 million congregants nationwide.

If you have questions about this statement, please contact Eric B. Sigmon, Interim Director for LIRS Washington Office, 202/626-7943, esigmon@lirs.org.

 

The May 2008 LIRS and ELCA Bishop Ullestad statement on the Postville, Iowa immigration raid can be found here.

LIRS testimony for the October 8, 2009 Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security hearing, “Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Faith-Based Perspectives,” can be found here.

The LIRS statement in response to the April 29, 2010 release of the comprehensive immigration reform blueprint can be found here.

The 2009 ELCA social policy resolution on immigration can be found here.

The 2006 LCMS immigration statement can be found here.