The support for children and families fleeing Central America due to violence and persecution has been overwhelming. Since July, more than 900 actions were taken through our Action Center, the highest level of action yet. However, we still need your voice to ensure families and children are treated with compassion and care. Today, LIRS Director for Advocacy, Brittney Nystrom, shares four principles to guide us in our advocacy.
1. Maintain critical protections for children. Children and families fleeing to the United States need protection, including safeguards already in place like the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The children LIRS serve every day remind us of the importance of these critical protections:
Carlos*, a 13 year old boy from El Salvador, fled to the United States after witnessing his mother’s brutal murder- four gunmen broke into Carlos’ home and shot his mother right in front of him. The gunmen were never caught. Suffering severe trauma after witnessing the event, his family decided to send him to live with a relative in the United States where he would not be in danger. A child like Carlos may not be able to talk about his experience without reliving the trauma. We must give children time and space to tell their stories and utilize child-centered and trauma-informed personnel.
*Name has been changed to protect the child’s identity
2. Ensure adequate funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the agency serving unaccompanied children, refugees, and other vulnerable migrants. ORR needs funds to provide appropriate care for vulnerable children while still serving all people under its care. Saham Talal, a former refugee from Iraq, reminds us that ORR funding helps newcomers through a difficult transition and positions them to thrive. In his own words:
“I am thankful and grateful to have been given the chance to have a safe, peaceful, decent and respectable life by being resettled in the United States where I feel free to live as I believe and make my own choices… Resettling in the states is tough and difficult. A huge adjustment that requires hard work, patience, persistence, responsibility and discipline, but it is totally worth it.”
3. Reject the use of family detention. Detaining families is an inhumane and fiscally-irresponsible way to treat some of the most vulnerable migrants. Community-based alternatives to detention help eliminate the arbitrary use of detention and allow for greater access to justice and integration. LIRS staff recently visited the family detention center in Artesia, NM and shared their experience:
“Because there is no child care and children must remain with their mothers at all times, children are typically within earshot of traumatic conversations that can take place between their mother and an attorney. Both women and children were picking up trash around the facility to occupy their time. Some sick children have not been given medicine despite their parents requesting it. As a result of this emotionally taxing experience, several of the children are not eating and losing weight, including one baby who had lost three pounds.”
4. Ensure access to legal protection is available to all migrants and refugees, especially children. Unfortunately, many vulnerable families and children lack access to life-saving legal representation and information. Liz Sweet, LIRS Director for Access to Justice, shares her experience working with children in need of protection:
“For thousands of children that come to this country seeking protection, there is no happy ending of liberty and safety. They walk into courts alone to face a judge, a prosecutor, and usually a translator. It does not matter their age or educational level, children often face this process on their own. Thousands of children lack access to an attorney…to help navigate this process. [For these children] and others who fled for their lives, an attorney can mean the difference between life and death.”
Help us advance these principles by urging your Congressional representatives to champion welcoming legislative measures and resist harmful approaches. Utilize our resource for meeting with Members of Congress in person during August recess, or contact Members online through our Action Center. We will also continue to urge President Obama to extend compassion and justice to families and children seeking refuge.
As people of faith, let our voices ring out in a unified call for the compassionate treatment of all newcomers.
Image credit: Navy