Sequestration, Budget Shortfall ‘Perfect Storm’ Threatens Protection of Refugees, Vulnerable Children

Published On: Donate

Hurricane Kenna 2002 300 2 It’s sad that this comes on the heels of a great victory on the Violence Against Women Act, but I have to tell you about a “perfect storm” that threatens America’s leadership on refugee protection.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) could be hamstrung at a crucial juncture for protecting refugees and children vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and exploitation. A combination of sequestration, plus budget strains resulting from a massive increase in the number of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving in the United States, represent a crisis Congress has to defuse by appropriating more funding for fiscal year 2013 (FY13).

Today marks a pivotal moment in how our country funds (or struggles to fund) refugee protection, so please visit our Action Center to raise your voice on this issue.

America has a moral and congressionally-mandated responsibility to migrant children who arrive on our shores alone without family to care for them. ORR’s current budget crisis was brought on by growing violence and food insecurity in Central America and is resulting in an unanticipated, unpredictable, and dramatic rise in the number of children arriving in the United States alone and vulnerable. These children must be kept safe while they are under our care awaiting family reunification or return to their home countries.

Why does it matter to us? Sequestration and any other threat to ORR are critical issues to LIRS, because caring for and protecting unaccompanied immigrant children are central to our work and our expression of Lutherans’ commitment to serve the most vulnerable among us. Working with our Lutheran social ministry partners and other agencies, we provide protection, transitional care, foster homes, legal services, advocacy, follow-up attention after release, and other essential services.

In FY12 alone, the number of unaccompanied immigrant children rose nearly 50%, from 8,000 to 14,000, straining programs and funding. On March 1, sequestration will take effect, triggering cuts for all federal programs, including approximately 6% for the Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, the Continuing Resolution currently funding the government will expire on March 27. These deadlines mean that Congress will have to decide if the budget cuts included in the Budget Control Act (sequestration) will take effect and at what level to fund the government for the last six months of the current fiscal year.

ORR urgently needs additional funding to provide services to all the populations they serve. The current budget shortfall for this fiscal year is over $100 million and the number of unaccompanied immigrant children will be higher than anticipated, an estimated 20,000. This means that ORR requires additional funding to provide crucial services to immigrant children and refugees in FY13. In addition, refugee arrivals are expected to be higher. If Congress does not provide additional funding, ORR will have to take drastic steps that could impact programs and services for refugees and asylees for years to come.

LIRS staff members serve and advocate for the best interests of refugee and immigrant children. The LIRS Children’s Services Department mobilizes when unaccompanied migrant children are released to a guardian, need an advocate, or would benefit from a loving family. The LIRS team also promotes family unity and reunification when it is a viable, safe option. LIRS actively partners with other domestic and international organizations to advance the best interests of all separated and unaccompanied children, within the United States and globally.

Most recently, LIRS has been a vocal proponent of incorporating children’s interests into comprehensive immigration reform.

As Jade Jackson, LIRS Child Services Placement Coordinator, said in one of our previous posts on serving kids: “We work … to help children enroll in school, find pro bono attorneys, or secure public assistance. Yet, we are forced to work in a broken system. As Congress meets to tackle reforming the immigration process, we must advocate for the inclusion of children in whatever legislation emerges.”

LIRS has endorsed the “Principles for Children in Immigration Reform” set forth by the bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus and the Women’s Refugee Commission. The groups’ immigration reform principles include:

  • A roadmap to citizenship that is direct, clear, affordable, and reasonable
  • Protections for children’s basic rights, including access to public services for children and families;
  • Enforcement reforms that protect children’s safety and well-being; and
  • A commitment to keeping families together, through reform of family-sponsored immigration policy and enforcement.

Beyond LIRS’s commitment to serving unaccompanied immigrant children, there are other reasons to support a strong and adequately funded U.S. refugee resettlement program. Refugee resettlement programs are a vital humanitarian and diplomatic tool. Refugees who are successfully resettled here are extremely grateful to the United States for the assistance they receive and become important assets in local communities.”

Here’s what Rev. Eric Wester has to say about this. He’s a retired U.S. Army colonel who joined 31 other Lutheran faith leaders and Lutheran-affiliated community organizations in signing a letter sent to President Barack Obama and members of Congress urging their immediate action.

In my time serving our nation in conflict-ridden areas abroad, I have seen the way refugee resettlement is an effective diplomatic and national security tool. The United States is a leader in welcoming refugees and offers an example which more and more countries follow. We must continue our nation’s life-saving tradition that provides new hope and new life for at least some refugees from around the world.

We’re extremely grateful that Rev. Wester and other Lutheran leaders and organizations are helping to avert this crisis.

Welcoming refugees is a life-saving tradition for the small number of people for whom we provide an opportunity to start a new life in our communities. Inadequate funding would not honor the United States’ history of leadership or the increasing need for humanitarian assistance.  It’s imperative that Congress ensure that ORR’s funds don’t run out.

Please don’t forget, when you’re done reading this, to use the LIRS Action Center to send a message to our elected officials on this pivotal day. And thank you again for all you are doing to Stand for Welcome with refugees and immigrants!

Image credit: NASA

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