UCC immigration advocates urge action to support unaccompanied child migrants arriving at U.S. border
Written by Staff reports
June 18, 2014
A recent influx of unaccompanied children migrating from Central America – hundreds per day – is a humanitarian crisis that is overwhelming U.S. resources. Coming primarily from violence-stricken areas in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, nearly 50,000 young refugees have fled their homelands for the opportunity of a safer life in the U.S. already this year. Because the U.S. Border Patrol cannot immediately deport migrants from countries that do not share a border with the U.S., these children make the dangerous journey with the expectation that, after turning themselves in, they will be permitted to stay, reunited with family in the U.S. or placed in foster care, while their cases are reviewed in immigration courts.
These children are filling up facilities faster than officials can open them. In South Texas, where the majority of the children are entering, more than 1,600 youths have filled up 13 shelters. Federal officials have also opened temporary facilities in San Antonio, Ventura, Calif., and Fort Sill, Okla., to deal with the overflow. Of bigger concern are Border Patrol holding facilities that are not equipped to house children. In Nogales, Ariz., a Border Patrol warehouse built to store supplies now houses more than 1,000 migrant children.
In honor of World Refugee Day, recognized each year on June 20, the United Church of Christ's Collaborative on Immigration has issued a call for members and congregations to respond to and act on this humanitarian crisis, to live out our faith by advocating for just immigration policies and dignity for all.
We are facing an escalating humanitarian crisis with the increase of migrant children crossing the United States/Mexico border at an alarming rate. Doubling every year since 2011, more than 47,000 children have already attempted the journey so far in 2014. The face of the child migrant has inundated the news cycle, with the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services unable to handle the number of children who, by law, are required to be processed to determine the safest option for each child. This often means waiting in the U.S. with a family member or foster parent for an immigration court case.
It is because of dire circumstances that a child chooses to migrate thousands of miles. A report from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees shows that many of these children are fleeing violence, conscription into gangs, and threats to their personal safety, including gender- and sexual-based violence.
As people of faith, we have an ethical obligation to care for the most vulnerable among us. The majority of unaccompanied children are arriving from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, all of which have seen changing migration patterns due to extreme poverty, violence and rising homicide rates. Displacement rates from these countries into neighboring Belize, Mexico and Nicaragua have soared by 435 percent, according to a recent United Nations report. Likewise, deportation numbers of Guatemalans from Arizona have risen 24 percent in 2014.
Common misconceptions are that policies like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or lax border security have caused increased Central American migration. However, the Department of Homeland Security has a record 21,000 border patrol agents. Prosecutions of "illegal entries" have risen 130 percent since 2007, and the Obama Administration is spending $18 billion per year on border security measures. We know that these children are not motivated by U.S. policies – they and their parents are making life-or-death decisions based on increased violence and few options for safety.
Many UCC Congregations across the country are wondering how they can help in this time of crisis. The U.S. government is required to take care of these children until the Department of Health and Human Services determines the best space for them, so there is no need for food or supply donations, as in many emergency situations. Instead, we have mapped out several action steps for both advocacy and service opportunities.