July 23, 2015 PRESS RELEASE — Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Releases Comprehensive Report on Status of Care for Unaccompanied Children

Press Contact: Miji Bell
MBell@lirs.org; 410-230-2841

BALTIMORE, MD – Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) announces the release of a comprehensive set of policy recommendations for the care and protection of unaccompanied children. The report, titled “At the Crossroads for Unaccompanied Migrant Children”, was informed by a series of three national roundtable meetings convened in 2014 by a diverse group of legal and social service providers at the peak of the arrivals of Central American children and families seeking protection in the United States. Over a dozen immigration advocacy groups participated in the roundtables, including Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Women’s Refugee Commission, First Focus, and the Children’s Action Alliance. The meetings focused on the need for greater protection, accountability and cross-system collaboration around the welfare of unaccompanied children.

The report released today details the challenges and shortcomings of the current practices for apprehension and placement of unaccompanied children as “a system in crisis”, one where the operational infrastructure – that includes processes mandated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department for Health and Human Services – is overwhelmed by limited resources and capacity that have not remained on par with the increasing numbers of children crossing U.S. borders.

Among the report’s key focuses is the need for all children to have post follow-up services such as home studies prior to reunification, and connecting children and their families with educational, legal, medical, and mental health services – all essential for successful integration into new communities. The report details that of the nearly 95,000 migrant children who have arrived in the U.S. since 2013, only 14,000 have received post-release services “so the status of their well-being is essentially unknown”, says Kimberly Haynes, LIRS Director for Children’s Services and one of the authors of the report. This marked increase in child migration has created various protection gaps in the systems that serve unaccompanied children.

Legal protections for unaccompanied children are another critical component to building a system with integrity, the report emphasizes. Children must have meaningful access to legal counsel and child advocates to protect their legal and best interests and due process. Many children now face deportation proceedings alone, navigating an incredibly complex system without the legal protections and procedural and substantive processes required to safeguard this vulnerable population.

The report makes recommendations for a level of increased oversight and accountability that allows for better checks and balances including the development of standard and emergency plans for the apprehension, screening and referral of children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and that Congress should mandate a continuum of post-release services so that children being released from federal custody receive a level of follow-up contact to ensure their success in identifying educational, legal and child welfare resources. Also recommended is improved coordination between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services to cross-collaborate and build best practices.

Through the roundtable meetings, the advocacy groups also agreed to a unified vision of fundamental principles for ensuring the protection and due process for the lives and safety of unaccompanied children.

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Founded in 1939, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is the second largest refugee resettlement agency in the United States. It is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating with refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations. Through more than 75 years of service and advocacy, LIRS has helped over 500,000 migrants and refugees rebuild their lives in America.