July 10, 2014

Statement at National Faith Press Teleconference on Unaccompanied Children

messageFrom July 10, 2014 National Faith Press Teleconference on Unaccompanied Children.

Listen to the whole call below.

View the National Faith Petition here.

This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to be part of a delegation of faith, philanthropic and community leaders that visited the Port Hueneme holding site in Oxnard, CA that was opened on June 6th to receive unaccompanied migrant children from Central America.

The tour of this holding site was conducted by Health and Human Services staff and a staff member from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). The actual work at the holding site has been contracted out to Southwest Key, a provider of services to unaccompanied children in the U.S.

The holding site was at capacity with 575 children between the ages of 13-17. We were not allowed to speak with the children, but they did greet us with Buenos Dias, and good morning, and with many smiles. They were clean and dressed in casual clothes and tennis shoes and looked just like U.S. children. They appeared healthy and happy.

The Resource Packet is now available for the Interfaith Weekend of Compassion and Prayer for Unaccompanied Migrant Children (July 18-20, 2014)

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The migrant children’s daily routine includes ESL classes and recreational activities. We saw a clinic that looked like a school clinic where they are provided medical care. The holding site also had a hair salon with an attractive barber shop pole. Occasional religious services are also provided. Meals are served under a large tent. The lunch meal we were able to observe seemed nutritious. We were told that the children could eat as much as they wanted.

What seemed missing was mental health care, and pastoral care beyond religious services. The children are provided assistance in finding family members for possible reunification, but are not provided legal assistance for their immigration or refugee cases. The Health and Human Services staff made it clear that once the children are released to their families in the US, they receive no further governmental assistance.

We were informed that the children are processed on the average in two weeks time with 85% being reunified with family members or other persons related to them who have been vetted. The other 15% includes children for whom the arduous migration experience has been too much for them to bear and who have thus expressed the desire to return home and other children for whom no family is identified or found and who are then sent to long-term shelters.

The Oxnard community has demonstrated great moral support for these migrant children. Our delegation included the vice-mayor of Oxnard and a member of the county board of supervisors, both of whom spoke of welcoming these children and finding ways to extend care to them.
But what we also learned is that while the community is ready to help in the care of these children with even foster care, federal government rules do not allow for this kind of community collaboration.

I was struck by the fact that these migrant children have been given a 2 week period of grace, of care and hopefully some healing from the trauma of their migrant journey, but in 2 weeks they will be released back into the chaos and struggle of being migrants fleeing poverty and violence and finding themselves in a country that does not want them, and that in too many places openly and viciously rejects them. And while they are children, because of their migrant status they do not receive the same protection that U.S. children are given through our child welfare laws. They are not provided with legal representation, and therefore run the risk of being deported without due process. If these children are returned to life-jeopardizing circumstances, their possible early deaths will be on our conscience.
These are children, and as people of faith and justice, we cannot just turn a blind eye or turn them away. These migrant children are God’s children and therefore our youngest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters for whom we must care.

We in California, including our United Methodist Immigration Task Force, have joined other faith and community leaders in asking President Obama, Congress and the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security to do the right thing, by providing funding for the care and due process of these migrant children, including the full implementation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Authorization Act.

Border security, deportation and a rigid focus on the enforcement of broken immigration policies is not the answer. The answer is compassionate justice, addressing the root causes of this migration of even children, and the reformation of our broken immigration policies.

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The Resource Packet is now available for the Interfaith Weekend of Compassion and Prayer for Unaccompanied Migrant Children (July 18-20, 2014)

Get Resources Now