July 24, 2014 STATEMENT–LIRS Welcomes Funding for Refugees and Children Seeking Refuge in the Senate Emergency Supplemental Funding Request

Press Contact: Miji Bell

mbell@lirs.org; 410-230-2841

Washington, D.C., July 24, 2014 – Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the organization established by Lutheran churches in America to serve uprooted people, is pleased that Senator Mikulski (D-MD)’s proposed Emergency Supplemental Funding Bill (S. 2648) seeks to welcome refugees and to protect children arriving in the United States seeking refuge. The $2.7 billion funding request includes critical funding for governmental agencies to continue to provide crucial services for unaccompanied children, refugees and other vulnerable migrants and to increase the Immigration Court capacity and legal services that ensure due process for vulnerable children and families.

At a time of humanitarian crisis, Congress must respond to the forced migration of children and families by ensuring the best interest of children and upholding our legal obligations to protect those fleeing persecution. “We are facing a humanitarian emergency to which we cannot close our eyes or our hearts,” says Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO. “We are compelled to provide safety, due process, and compassion to the thousands of children and families who are fleeing Central America.”

LIRS welcomes the requested $1.2 billion in funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Department of Health and Human Services, the government agency responsible for caring for children arriving at our borders alone, refugees and other vulnerable migrants.

  • This level of funding for the remainder of the calendar year will allow ORR to properly house and provide critical services for children, while also protecting existing programs and services that welcome and support refugees and other vulnerable migrants.

LIRS also welcomes the requested $124.5 million for the Department of Justice — an increase of $60.5 million from the President’s emergency funding request.

  • This funding would allow for an additional 40 Immigration Judge teams, expanded direct legal representation services for children facing deportation, and the expansion of the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) to custodians of children and families navigating the immigration court system.
  • The American value of justice for all is arguably even more important during times of humanitarian crisis. Furthermore, vulnerable migrant children must be provided the full protection of their rights under our laws.

LIRS is gravely concerned with the requested $586 million for the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to expand the detention and removal of families with children.

  • Detention is completely inappropriate for families.
  • We welcome the requirement that ICE place more families in Alternatives to Detention (ATD) programs, which have effectively served the interests of the government while protecting due process and ensuring immigrants have a fair chance for justice.
  • Emphasis should be placed on the use of community-based programs. LIRS is a leader in developing community-based alternatives to detention and is willing to work with the government towards a more humane approach at this time.

Proposed funding of $1 million for the DHS Office of Inspector General bolsters oversight and accountability both within the ICE immigration detention system and at all facilities where children and families are held our borders. Oversight is a critically important component to any expansion of ICE family detention.

LIRS makes the following recommendations to Congress:

  • Provide additional resources to federal agencies serving unaccompanied migrant children to meet their needs while they are in and after they are released from federal custody.
  • Provide a contingency fund for maximum flexibility to respond to urgent needs of this population.
  • Respect legal and humanitarian protections and ensure all children are treated with safety and dignity.
  • Pass legislation such as the Child Trafficking Victims Protection Act (H.R. 2624 / sections 1112 and 3611 of S. 744), the Vulnerable Immigrant Voice Act (H.R. 4936 / section 3502 of S. 744), the Protect Family Values at the Border Act (H.R. 3130 /section 1115 of S. 744) and the Humane Short Term Custody Act (S. 1817).

LIRS makes the following recommendations specific to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement:

  • Place unaccompanied migrant children in community-based care, child welfare shelters operated by NGOs, and other settings reflecting the needs of such children, including therapeutic placements, mentor homes, and foster homes for young children and especially vulnerable teens.
  • Make post-release services available for all released migrant children to help them integrate into their communities; ensure safe reunifications with their families, mitigating risk for breakdown; assist with connecting them to immigration legal representation; and better assure their attendance at immigration court proceedings.
  • Ensure that all unaccompanied children have access to legal representation as well as spiritual care while in shelters.

LIRS makes the following recommendations specific to the Department of Homeland Security:

  • Establish an emergency initiative, operational guidelines, and training to facilitate participation by NGOs to support DHS personnel at U.S. ports of entry and U.S border crossings. Immediately place child welfare professionals to assist DHS with conducting the mandated screening for trafficking and asylum and facilitate ORR’s custody and identification of child protection concerns. NGOs, including LIRS, have experience with child welfare and anti-trafficking work and can provide child-friendly and trauma-informed informational briefings to DHS personnel at U.S. border crossings, and U.S. ports of entry, to assist in the identification, screening, and referral of trafficking victims and potential child-trafficking victims.
  • Ensure access to monitoring of DHS facilities where migrant children are held by LIRS and other NGOs and the access of legal service providers and child advocates.
  • Ensure that access to spiritual care is available to all individuals, including children and families, in detention.
  • Maximize the use of alternatives to detention to avoid detaining families who are in removal proceedings.

Additional LIRS Resources:

Please contact Brittney Nystrom, LIRS Director for Advocacy at (202) 626-7943 or BNystrom@lirs.org with questions or for additional information.