July 21, 2011 STATEMENT — LIRS Welcomes Legislation to Protect Children and Families at Risk of Separation

Press Contact: Fabio Lomelino, Assistant Director for Media Relations
410-230-2721, lirspress@lirs.org

LIRS Welcomes Legislation to Protect Children and Families at Risk of Separation

BALTIMORE, July 21, 2011—Today Senator Franken (D-MN) and Representative Woolsey (D-CA-6) introduced the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act (S. 1399/ H.R. 2607), legislation that would provide important protections for children separated from their parents by federal immigration enforcement actions. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, has a long history of providing services to vulnerable migrant children and assisting families. “LIRS and our network of social ministry organizations, church partners, and constituents are committed to working with Congress and the Administration to ensure that U.S. immigration laws and policies uphold our nation’s values,” said Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO. “Reforms are urgently needed to improve protections for children and families. I am grateful for the leadership of Senator Franken and Representative Woolsey and I urge Congress to pass this important piece of legislation.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates that in fiscal year (FY) 2011 it will detain over 440,000 immigrants, more than twice the number of individuals detained in FY 2001. Among those incarcerated are immigrant parents and caregivers whose detention leaves children with no one to care for them. While there is no annual data on how many parents of U.S. citizen children are placed into detention and deported, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there are 4.5 million children with undocumented parents living in the United States.[1] Moreover, between March 2009 and 2010, 8% of all U.S. births were children born to at least one undocumented immigrant parent.[2] “Immigrant families are a part of the fabric of our congregations and communities,” said the Rev. Robert Munneke, chair of the Task Force on Immigration for the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “Our government must consider the welfare of children in any immigration law enforcement actions.”

LIRS works with immigrant families who experience the pain of family separation and has seen firsthand that when detained parents and caregivers have sufficient time and access to resources, they can help arrange proper care for their children. For example, LIRS recently worked with a family in New Jersey after federal immigration authorities apprehended and detained Rosa,[3] a mother of four children. Before being deported to her native country of Honduras, LIRS worked with Rosa as she made arrangements for two of her U.S. citizen children to live with an aunt in the United States. She also decided that her two other children would return with her to Honduras. Although the family was ultimately separated, LIRS helped Rosa make informed decisions about how to best arrange care for her children.

The HELP Separated Children Act would allow licensed social workers, child welfare agencies, or local non-government organizations to screen individuals apprehended by DHS to determine if they have children in the United States. If the individuals have children in the United States, DHS would have to consider the welfare of the children before making a decision about detaining, releasing, or transferring the parents. If DHS decides that the parents must be jailed, detention facilities would have to provide them with regular, confidential phone calls to help them arrange for the care of their children. Finally, if immigration authorities determine that the parents must be deported, the bill would provide the parents with time to obtain the necessary travel documents if their children will accompany them on their return to their country of origin.

LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating with and on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.

If you have any questions about this statement, please feel free to contact Eric B. Sigmon, LIRS Director for Advocacy, at (202) 626-7943 or via email at esigmon@lirs.org.


[1] Passel, Jeffrey S. Passel, and Cohn, D’Vera. “Unauthorized Immigrating Population: National and State Trends, 2010,” Pew Hispanic Center, Washington, D.C. (February 1, 2011.) <http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=133>

[2] Ibid.

[3] Name changed to protect the woman’s identity.