June 24, 2014 STATEMENT–LIRS Statement for Hearing: “Children Migrating from Central America: Creating a Humanitarian Crisis”

House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere

Washington, D.C., June 24, 2014 – “We are facing a humanitarian emergency to which we cannot close our eyes or our hearts,” says Linda Hartke, President of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). The organization calls on all people of faith to stay true to our values. “We are compelled to provide safety, due process, and compassion to the thousands of children who are fleeing Central America.” adds Hartke.

LIRS is working with the government and with a national network of social service partners to address this crisis. With a 75-year history of serving refugees and migrants, LIRS has over thirty years of experience helping to resettle children from all over the world, including Central America. Some children and families will still undertake this perilous journey when their very lives depend on finding a place of safety.

At a time of humanitarian crisis, we ask that the governmental response to child migration protects the best interest of these children. Secondly, we ask that more resources be devoted to respond humanely to children affected by this crisis.

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 during interactions with governmental agencies.

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

  •  Place unaccompanied migrant children in community-based care, child welfare shelters operated by non-governmental organizations, and other settings reflecting the needs of such children, including therapeutic placements, mentor homes, and foster homes for young children and especially vulnerable teens, rather than placing such children in large institutional settings.
  • Make post-release services available for all released migrant children in order 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 access to spiritual care is available to all children 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. 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 that access to spiritual care is available to all individuals, including children and families, in detention.

Started by Lutheran congregations in 1939, LIRS walks with migrants and refugees through ministries of service and justice, transforming U.S. communities by ensuring that newcomers are not only self-sufficient but also become connected and contributing members of their adopted communities in the United States. Working with and through over 60 partners across the country, LIRS resettles refugees, reunites children with their families or provides loving homes for them, conducts policy advocacy, and pursues humanitarian alternatives to the immigration detention system. For more information, please visit www.lirs.org.

If you have questions about this statement, please feel free to contact either Brittney Nystrom, LIRS Director for Advocacy, at bnystrom@lirs.org or (202) 626-7943 or Nora Skelly, LIRS Assistant Director for Advocacy, at nskelly@lirs.org or (202) 626-7934.

Additional resources:

  • The June 3, 2014 LIRS statement applauding the President’s announcement on coordinated response to unaccompanied migrant children can be found at http://lirs.org/press-inquiries/press-room/140603statement/
  •  The May 27, 2014 LIRS press release announcing the #ActOfLove campaign can be found at http://lirs.org/press-inquiries/press-room/140527newsrelease/
  •  The LIRS Backgrounder on Protecting Unaccompanied Migrant Children can be found at http://lirs.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/LIRS-Backgrounder-on-Unaccompanied-Migrant-Children-FINAL-5-8-14.pdf