We are facing an escalating humanitarian crisis as a growing number of children flee escalating violence in Central America. So far in FY 2014 alone 57,000 children have sought refuge at our borders. It is from dire circumstances that a child chooses to migrate thousands of miles. As people of faith we have an ethical obligation to care for the most vulnerable among us. The root causes of these changing migration patterns are extreme poverty, violence, and rising homicide rates in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, from which most of the children are arriving.
A Pastoral Letter on Child Refugees from the National Leaders of the United Church of Christ
The National Officers of the United Church of Christ and the Council of Conference Ministers — the leaders of the denomination’s regional conferences — shared a pastoral letter addressing the tens of thousands of young refugees fleeing Central and Latin America and seeking safety in the United States. In a unified voice, UCC leaders declared their support for these children that are leaving their homelands out of fear. This is a unique moment that tests the church’s commitment for justice and peace. Read the full pastoral letter.
Compassion and Prayers for Unaccompanied Migrant Children
Join people of faith in praying and acting to protect these children! The United Church of Christ is urging members and congregations to take a moment during church services to pray for and stand in silent witness with thousands of young refugees fleeing violence and conflict in Central America and the people and communities throughout the country working to help them.
There are several things you and your congregation can do:
Pray -Your church can pray for the protection of the children, who have travelled hundreds of miles to escape the violence in their home countries. We are asking for prayers of support for:
- The children and their families. For the violence and poverty that forces people to leave their homes and loved ones. For the broken hearts of parents seperated from their children. For a better world where all God's children can find safety.
- The UCC-affiliated Bethany Children’s Home in Womelsdorf, Penn., which has so far helped more than 60 unaccompanied minors through its Helping Hands program, and plans to help hundreds more in the coming months.
- Yuma United Church of Christ in Yuma, Ariz., which provides food, clothing, water, diapers and other supplies to women and children left by U.S. Border Patrol in public parking lots to fend for themselves.
- The Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, which is serving as a donation collection center and working to distribute supplies to its local congregations.
- The Southern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ that is supporting the work of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, which has so far collected and distributed tens of thousands of items to young refugees.
- United Church of the Valley United Church of Christ in Murrieta, Calif., whose members brought a peaceful presence to the city’s angry protests, and continue to advocate for these children by working with their congressional representatives.
Act - Both the Senate and House have introduced emergency funding bills to respond to the unaccompanied children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Calls to your Senators and Representative are urgently needed today. Tell them to REJECT rollbacks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and to INCREASE funding for refugee resettlement. Visit tiny.cc/ProtectKids for more info and to take action.
Give - Your financial contribution is multiplied by joining with others to increase the capacity of the UCC to address humanitarian needs and to shape the future. You are helping to provide food, water, safe places, a listening pastoral ear, religious services, and legal assistance. Your gifts are already making their way to the UCC Southwest Conference and Church World Service to provide immediate and sustained releif. We thank you for your generosity.
Make a secure on-line donation noting "Unaccompanied Child Refugees" in the comments section. Gifts may also be made at your local UCC congregation noting support for “Unaccompanied Child Refugees". Gifts should then be sent through your Conference office on to Wider Church Ministries. Donations may also be made out and sent directly to Wider Church Ministries, Financial Services - 6th Floor, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.
More of the UCC Response
- UCC response to crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America - the UCC Immigration Task Force offers an overview of the crisis and ways for congregations to engage.
- Worth the Risk? Consider the factors behind the surge of unaccompanied children. - July 9, 2014. Derek Duncan, Our Global Ministries Associate for Global Advocacy and Education, reflects on the growing number of unaccompanied children crossing our southern border. He explores why these children are coming to the U.S., what is the faith community is doing to respond, and what comes next.
- UCC coordinated response moves quickly to fund assistance for displaced children
- UCC Congregations respond:
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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.
Ways to Engage:
- Take action - call your representative today and call for adequate funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
- If you live near an immigrant holding facility, you may want to start a detention visitation ministry. See List of detention centers throughout the country here and research if they are holding unaccompanied children.
- Consider becoming a foster parent to allow the release of the child while they wait for their immigrant court date. Additional resources can be found via the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops.
- Spread the right message! Help educate others through resource list and social media opportunities.
- Volunteer with a program that is helping unaccompanied children, such as the Corporation for National and Community Service, Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services, or Kids In Need of Defense.
Region-specific volunteer opportunities:
- ARIZONA: Casa Mariposa seeks volunteers to help women and children dropped off at the Tucson and Phoenix bus stations. Volunteers help contact relatives, provide diapers, food, child care, etc.
- FLORIDA: Catholic Charities’ Msgr. Bryan Walsh Children’s Village in Miami, Florida shelters unaccompanied children and provides K-12 education, counseling, medical and legal services. Volunteers are need Monday-Friday to help with recreational activities and field trips as well as host birthday parties and holiday celebrations.
- TEXAS: Bilingual volunteers are needed to mentor unaccompanied children at St. Michael’s Home for Children in the Galveston-Houston area.
- NEW YORK: Spend time with minors waiting to meet with their case managers at local detention facilities.
- NEW ENGLAND: Lutheran Social Services provides legal assistance to unaccompanied minors in immigration court proceedings.
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