By the carload and vanload, United Church of Christ members and friends regularly make one-hour trips from Claremont, Calif., to befriend detainees at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement center in the desert town of Adelanto. Thanks in part to a UCC Neighbors in Need grant, they connect the immigrants with legal counsel, accompaniment to hearings, release bonds, and, just as important, hope.Read more
United Church of Christ ministers and congregations play prominent roles in two current documentaries about progressive religion: a feature-length film, "American Heretics," on Oklahoma City's Mayflower Congregational Church, and a shorter video news piece on immigration policy in Arizona.Read more
Members of the United Church of Christ’s ecumenical partner, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), spoke out on immigration, refugees and poverty at their July assembly.Read more
United Church of Christ members in aging and overwhelmingly white Maine say there's nothing remarkable in their offers of help to the hundreds of Africans fleeing violence and arriving in their state. Whether it's bedrooms in a parsonage or money raised for legal assistance, it's how they do church, they say.Read more
United Church of Christ clergy and congregations took leadership, served as hosts, lit candles and planned follow-up actions during many of the hundreds of "Lights for Liberty" vigils held Friday evening, July 12. The events around the country protested the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers detained at the southern U.S. border, in what national vigil organizers refer to as concentration camps.Read more
A routine traffic stop changed the life of Misael Perez (Eleazar Misael Perez Cabrera). A native of Guatemala who built a life for himself as a roofer in the Phoenix area, Perez--facing deportation after police pulled him over--has now been taken into sanctuary at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ.Read more
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:
The United Church of Christ is calling for compassion, care and prayer for the thousands of children who have come to the United States fleeing violence and conflict in Central America and the people in this country who are offering them refuge. Bethany Children’s Home, a UCC ministry serving children and families in need in Womelsdorf, Penn., northwest of Philadelphia, is one of the places these children have found safe harbor.
"This is perhaps the largest crisis our country has experienced regarding children since the Civil War when Bethany was founded," said Bethany Children’s Home CEO Kevin Snyder.
Since 1863, Bethany has been providing a safe space for youth who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned and want to take back their lives. With this wave of young refugees, the home has launched the Helping Hands program for unaccompanied children who have made the dangerous journey to America. Right now, 32 of them are housed there.
This Sunday, as part of an Interfaith Weekend of Compassion and Prayer for Unaccompanied Children, the UCC is asking its congregants and churches to take time during worship services on Sunday, July 20, to stand in silent witness and prayer for these young refugees and the people around the country reaching out to help them.
The Rev. Don Wetzel, pastor of St. Thomas UCC in Linglestown, Penn., and a Bethany Children’s Home board member, is proud of the facility staff and the children he is looking forward to ministering to.
"Bethany welcomes prayers for the staff of Bethany Children’s Home, as they carry out the faithful witness of caring and hope," said Wetzel. As for the young refugees, "Bethany welcomes prayers on their behalf and for their families who have endured so much, for God’s blessing of protection, well-being, safety, and surprising joy."
The circumstances the children have faced are hard to take in. "Children are talking about walking for months, through jungles, crossing rivers, through unbelievable terrain to get to the United States," Snyder said. "The only thing they come with is what they are wearing. And though they are not related, the older children are very caring, very protective of the younger children."
While in the care of the professionals at Bethany, the children are fed, housed and given a week's allocation of clothing. They are medically evaluated and spend time learning English, among other subjects, in school. In addition to classroom education, the children are able to socialize and have fun. Most importantly, Bethany offers a way to reunite the young refugees with family members in a safe and timely way.
"It has been a delight to have them," said Snyder. "But it's a quick turnaround. They stay with us for 10 days to two weeks and we send them out to their families. It's been extremely rewarding."
One of the children, an 11-year-old girl from Honduras, came looking for her mother who left her home when she was two. Her caseworkers said the child traveled with other children in the care of several "guides" along the way. One of them, described as "very irresponsible" only fed them once in 48 hours, took money to change their currency and the child never saw her money again. She crossed two rivers, the first river to pass into Mexico, and the second river to cross over to America. She was scared, as she could not swim. However, she was placed on a makeshift raft and crossed over.
Once in Texas, the "guide" directed them to keep going until they got caught. When captured by U.S. Border Patrol, she said she was scared, kept in a holding cell for 10 days where she slept on the floor and was not allowed to shower.
The girl's life changed once she got to Helping Hands. She got a shower, a phone call, food and new clothes. She went to school to learn English. After 11 days she was reunited with her family. Before she left, her caseworker said, "She knew how to say hello, good morning, how are you, please and thank you. She said her goodbyes, and, before leaving, she stated that she would never forget us and that she would miss us."
Bethany is just a month into the Helping Hands program and has already assisted 60 children, ages 4 to 14. The facility is remodeling a few buildings right now so additional children can be served. The hope is, by the end of August, the 32 children in residence at one time will grow to 64. Snyder believes the program will help resettle 300 young refugees as part of this government program in the next year. That's in addition to the 300 children from the local community that Bethany assists every year, but Snyder and his staff are up for the challenge.
"We have been blessed to be a part of this program," he said. "We are proud to be a part of this effort, because these are very loving, needy children. We get so many 'thank-yous' throughout the day."
But Helping Hands could use a helping hand. "It's been extremely rewarding," Snyder said. "But the challenge we have, the shortfall we face, is with clothing."
The program provides $70 for seven sets of clothing for each child, and the financial generosity of donors is making up the rest. Bethany is currently working to secure contracts with clothing manufacturers so they can purchase the sizes and quantities they need at wholesale prices. The UCC has also issued a special appeal for those wishing to provide financial assistance to efforts and programs like Helping Hands.
Snyder wants to extend a sincere thank you to the churches that have and those that intend to support this ministry through prayer and resources. "Our greatest need is to provide these children a safe, warm environment to learn and grow while in our care," he said. "Together, we are working to provide a brighter future for kids and families."
To learn more about Bethany Children’s Home visit its website.
Update - June 26: On Wednesday, June 25, Marco Tulio was granted an order of supervision for one year by Immigration Custom Enforcement, allowing him to stay in the United States with his family.
Marco Tulio is desperately trying to stay in the United States with his wife and children. But complications with Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE) and other aspects of the legal system make his deportation seem more likely every day. On Wednesday, June 25, advocates from the United Church of Christ and a number of immigrant rights groups will rally together in Arizona to support the Tulio family in their time of desperation by accompanying Tulio to submit one more request for a stay of removal and offering him sanctuary at Shadow Rock UCC in Phoenix.
"Marco Tulio is a human being with a beautiful family doing the best he can do," said the Rev. Ken Heintzelman, pastor of Shadow Rock UCC. "This is the bottom line which motivates the actions of our congregation."
Tulio previously had a stay of removal from deportation, but despite numerous attempts to apply for renewal, ICE has refused to accept his applications. On Wednesday, Tulio, joined by clergy including Heintzelman and the Rev. John Dorhauer, conference minister of the Southwest Conference of the UCC, will once again deliver a request for a stay of removal, as well as an order of supervision, which would require Tulio to check into an ICE facility once per year. After submitting his applications, Tulio will take sanctuary at Shadow Rock UCC until ICE grants him deferred action or an order of supervision, ensuring that he can remain in the United States with his family.
"We have long witnessed families unjustly torn apart by an overzealous government agency whose policies are executed with little regard for family security," said Dorhauer. "I am proud of Shadow Rock UCC, and of the pastor the Rev. Ken Heinzelman, for showing the courage of their convictions and taking Marco Tulio into sanctuary. May it be that he finds in their loving arms the safety that America refused to offer him."
Shadow Rock UCC was initially involved to offer assistance to other congregations that were in line to provide sanctuary to Tulio, as a sanctuary church option would improve his leverage in the case. But as options – and time – began to run out, Heintzelman felt it was his duty and responsibility to offer his church as the safe space Tulio and his family needed to ensure they could stay together.
"The offer of sanctuary is like a card the legal team has but does not want to play unless they have to," Heintzelman said. "I understand that part of my pastoral office is to provide sanctuary as a sign of God's mercy to whoever I discern God has brought to us."
After much conversation, the board of Shadow Rock UCC voted unanimously on June 17 to support Heintzelman's offer of sanctuary for Tulio, which will be recognized with a community worship service at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
"Marco's life is caught up in the machinations of a broken system arbitrarily enforcing unjust laws created by bigotry and unfounded fears," Heintzelman said. "The congregation of Shadow Rock United Church of Christ wants to stand between Marco Tulio and the system which would rip him away from his family, thus we offer him and his family sanctuary.
"We do not know, nor can we help, every deserving and suffering family that lives under the threat of deportation and devastation, but we do know Marco, his family, and his story," Heintzelman continued. "We stand with him and act with compassion and justice. All other political, economic, and legal arguments and rhetoric fail in the light of this human family and their need."
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.