October 8, 2009 NEWS RELEASE — LIRS Questions Recent Decision to Suspend Services for Vulnerable Immigrant Youth: Organization Implores Government to Uphold Best Interests of Children in U.S. Custody

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

LIRS Questions Recent Decision to Suspend Services for Vulnerable Immigrant Youth: Organization Implores Government to Uphold Best Interests of Children in U.S Custody

BALTIMORE, October 8, 2009—Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) questions the recent decision by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to suspend services for vulnerable immigrant youth and asks for an immediate review of the practice.

The passage of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 enabled children in ORR custody who have been granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) to be admitted into a foster care program that would provide them with critical services such as case management, education, mental health counseling and job training. These children have been deemed by the state and ORR to have been neglected, abused or abandoned by a parent. However, last week ORR informed LIRS that it would temporarily stop admitting these minors into the program due to budgetary constraints. This decision leaves children in temporary ORR custody until their 18th birthday when they are faced with being placed into an adult detention facility or released to a homeless shelter without the necessary support services.

Acting LIRS President Anne P. Wilson explains, “When the government grants SIJS to children who have been subjected to domestic violence, abuse or neglect, the government acknowledges their particular vulnerability and provides them with a green card and makes them eligible for much needed services. Denying services to these minors will have a profound and lasting effect on their lives.”

As a result of this decision, minors in U.S. custody who have already been abandoned, abused and neglected by their families face abandonment once again with no possibility of the continued care or services they desperately need. Just this week two young men seeking SIJS protection turned 18 while in ORR custody. One was picked up by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and placed into an adult immigration detention facility. This is the very same detention system that DHS announced this week is in need of major reform. The other child is being relocated to a local homeless shelter. These young men who want to work hard to rebuild their lives in the United States are now left with no home, few rights and little recourse.

“For the sake of these migrant youth at risk, we strongly urge HHS to reconsider this decision,” states LIRS Vice President for Protection and Programs Susan Krehbiel. “We further ask that the administration review the implementation of the law and Congress consider the urgent funding needs of ORR to ensure the protection of these vulnerable children. These two young men who turned 18 this week have already aged out of their eligibility for the foster care program, but it is not too late for others still in ORR’s care.”

Each year LIRS serves unaccompanied refugee and immigrant children who arrive to the United States alone, without the protection and the loving care of a parent or guardian. Through its foster care and family reunification programs LIRS finds homes for these vulnerable migrant children and provides the support services necessary to help them grow up to be healthy, productive adults.

Since 1939 LIRS has created welcoming communities for America’s newcomers. It is one of the nation’s leading agencies serving refugees and immigrants. The organization resettles refugees, protects migrant children, advocates for just treatment of asylum seekers, seeks alternatives to immigration detention and stands for unity for families fractured by unfair laws. To learn more about LIRS’s work of welcome, please visit lirs.org.

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