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Baltimore, MD – In an effort to bring hope to thousands of migrants in the United States, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is running its sixth-annual Hope for the Holidays campaign. The program collects cards and gifts for distribution to immigrant detention centers across the country, as well as to clients of the nonprofit’s national network of service providers, reminding migrant individuals and families that they are not forgotten during the holiday season.
“As we enjoy the holiday season, thousands of migrants are being detained in inhumane conditions, isolated from their loved ones and vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks that have plagued detention centers,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “These cards and gifts are a source of hope and proof that someone is thinking of them, praying for them, and offering kindness and encouragement during a season that can be particularly difficult.”
As part of the Hope for the Holidays program, volunteers make and collect holiday cards with messages of support for migrants, as well as monetary donations for children’s gifts. So far this year, volunteers have collected nearly 15,000 cards for vulnerable migrant families, individuals and children. In 2019, campaign donations provided more than 1,500 children’s gifts – enough for every single migrant child in family detention centers in the country to open a special present over the holiday season.
“It’s been an incredibly challenging year for migrants in this country,” said Vignarajah, who formerly served as Policy Director for First Lady Michelle Obama before taking the helm at LIRS. “In the past year, we’ve seen the border all but closed to asylum-seeking children and families. Because of draconian pandemic measures taken by the Trump administration, more than 13,000 unaccompanied migrant children have been expelled at the border without so much as a single hearing before an immigration judge.”
Many groups, including church congregations and volunteer organizations, host virtual card-writing parties using the LIRS toolkit, which offers instructions, sample messages in English and Spanish, and educational information about immigration detention. While LIRS cannot accept donated toys due to strict rules about what is accepted in detention centers, monetary gifts are welcomed online, by phone, or by mail to purchase pre-approved gifts for the children.
In addition to the United States’ three family detention centers – Karnes Family Residential Center, South Texas Residential Center, and Berks Family Residential Center – cards are also delivered to adults in approximately 20 other facilities by the organization’s detention visitation partners. Messages of hope are also distributed throughout LIRS’ network of service providers for newly arrived refugee families, to unaccompanied migrant children in foster care, and to recently released migrants in shelters.
Campaign participants are also encouraged to participate in advocacy by contacting their legislators about humane alternatives to migrant family detention.
“Hope for the Holidays offers an opportunity for us to reflect on everything we have to be grateful for and to think seriously about how we can use our gifts to show compassion and love for the stranger,” said Vignarajah. “As we all look for meaningful and safe ways to celebrate the holidays, let us remember the importance of true connection. Let us remember – and support – those whose lives are impacted by the immigration detention system.”
All cards will be received and processed by Hope for the Holidays church partner, First English Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baltimore. For information on how to participate, advocate, or donate, visit lirs.org/HOPE
Founded in 1939, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is the largest faith-based nonprofit dedicated exclusively to serving vulnerable immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the U.S. LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership working with and advocating for refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations. Through 80 years of service and advocacy, LIRS has helped over 500,000 migrants and refugees rebuild their lives in America.