March 1, 2013 NEWS RELEASE — ‘Perfect Storm’ Looms Over Office of Refugee Resettlement; LIRS Urges Congress to Act

Sequestration, Budget Shortfall Threaten Protection of Refugees, Vulnerable Children

Press Contact: Jon Pattee
202-591-5778, jpattee@lirs.org

WASHINGTON, DC March 1, 2013 — Congress must act to prevent sequestration and a hefty budget shortfall from hamstringing the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at a crucial juncture for protecting refugees and children vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and exploitation, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) said today.

“We’re approaching a ‘perfect storm’ that threatens America’s leadership on refugee protection,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “A combination of sequestration, plus budget strains resulting from a massive increase in the number of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving in the United States, represent a crisis Congress has to defuse by appropriating more funding for fiscal year 2013 (FY13).”

“America has a moral and congressionally-mandated responsibility to migrant children who arrive on our shores alone without family to care for them,” said Hartke. “ORR’s current budget crisis was brought on by growing violence and food insecurity in Central America and is resulting in an unanticipated, unpredictable, and dramatic rise in the number of children arriving in the United States alone and vulnerable. These children must be kept safe while they are under our care awaiting family reunification or return to their home countries.”

“Sequestration and any other threat to ORR are critical issues to LIRS, because caring for and protecting unaccompanied immigrant children are central to our work and our expression of Lutherans’ commitment to serve the most vulnerable among us ,” said Hartke. “Working with our Lutheran social ministry partners and other agencies, we provide protection, transitional care, foster homes, legal services, advocacy, follow-up attention after release, and other essential services.”

In FY12 alone, the number of unaccompanied immigrant children rose nearly 50%, from 8,000 to 14,000, straining programs and funding. On March 1, sequestration will take effect, triggering cuts for all federal programs, including approximately 6% for the Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, the Continuing Resolution currently funding the government will expire on March 27. These deadlines mean that Congress will have to decide if the budget cuts included in the Budget Control Act (sequestration) will take effect and at what level to fund the government for the last six months of the current fiscal year.

ORR urgently needs additional funding to provide services to all the populations they serve. The current budget shortfall for this fiscal year is over $100 million and the number of unaccompanied immigrant children will be higher than anticipated, an estimated 20,000. This means that ORR requires additional funding to provide crucial services to immigrant children and refugees in FY13. In addition, refugee arrivals are expected to be higher. If Congress does not provide additional funding, ORR will have to take drastic steps that could impact programs and services for refugees and asylees for years to come.

LIRS staff members serve and advocate for the best interests of refugee and immigrant children. The LIRS Children’s Services Department mobilizes when unaccompanied migrant children are released to a guardian, need an advocate, or would benefit from a loving family. The LIRS team also promotes family unity and reunification when it is a viable, safe option. LIRS actively partners with other domestic and international organizations to advance the best interests of all separated and unaccompanied children, within the United States and globally.

Most recently, LIRS has been a vocal proponent of incorporating children’s interests into comprehensive immigration reform.

“We work to help children enroll in school, find pro bono attorneys, or secure public assistance,” said Jade Jackson, LIRS Child Services Placement Coordinator. “Yet, we are forced to work in a broken system. As Congress meets to tackle reforming the immigration process, we must advocate for the inclusion of children in whatever legislation emerges.”

LIRS has endorsed the “Principles for Children in Immigration Reform” set forth by the bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus and the Women’s Refugee Commission. The groups’ immigration reform principles include:

  • A roadmap to citizenship that is direct, clear, affordable, and reasonable
  • Protections for children’s basic rights, including access to public services for children and families;
  • Enforcement reforms that protect children’s safety and well-being; and,
  • A commitment to keeping families together, through reform of family-sponsored immigration policy and enforcement.

Beyond LIRS’s commitment to serving unaccompanied immigrant children, there are other reasons to support a strong and adequately funded U.S. refugee resettlement program.

“Refugee resettlement programs are a vital humanitarian and diplomatic tool,” added Hartke. “Refugees who are successfully resettled here are extremely grateful to the United States for the assistance they receive and become important assets in local communities.”

“In my time serving our nation in conflict-ridden areas abroad, I have seen the way refugee resettlement is an effective diplomatic and national security tool,” said Rev. Eric Wester, chaplain (Colonel, Retired), U.S. Army, one of 31 Lutheran faith leaders and Lutheran-affiliated community organizations who signed a letter sent to President Barack Obama and members of Congress urging their immediate action.

“Welcoming refugees is a life-saving tradition for the small number of people for whom we provide an opportunity to start a new life in our communities,” said Hartke. “Inadequate funding would not honor the United States’ history of leadership or the increasing need for humanitarian assistance.  It’s imperative that Congress ensure that ORR’s funds don’t run out.”

LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating 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.