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USCCB Migration Chair Condemns Administration Plans for the Third Consecutive Mass Reduction in Refugee Resettlement

September 27, 2019

WASHINGTON — For the third consecutive year, the Administration plans to slash the number of refugee admissions for the coming fiscal year, ordering a new record low of 18,000 refugees. That would represent a 40% drop from last year’s already historic low of 30,000. Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, and Chairman of the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued the following statement:

“We are currently in the midst of the world’s greatest forced displacement crisis on record, and for our nation, which leads by example, to lower the number of refugee admissions for those who are in need is unacceptable. Refugees are among the most vulnerable people, fleeing war, religious persecution, and extreme targeted violence. Turning a blind eye to those in need with such callous disregard for human life would go against the values of our nation and fail to meet the standards that make our society great.

“We also have deep concerns about the forthcoming Executive Order permitting state and city officials to turn away refugees from their communities. We fear the collateral negative consequences, especially for refugees and their families, of creating a confusing patchwork across America of some jurisdictions where refugees are welcomed and others where they are not.

“Given the unprecedented humanitarian need and the crucial global leadership role that our country plays, we strongly urge the Administration and Congress — as they engage in the consultation phase mandated by statute — to work together to restore U.S. refugee resettlement to at normal, historical levels.”

2019-09-27T15:55:26-04:00Statements|

For a Hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship “The Expansion and Troubling Use of ICE Detention”

Written Statement of  MOST REVEREND JOE S. VÁSQUEZ, Bishop of Austin, Texas

Chair, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration

 

For a Hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary,

Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship

“The Expansion and Troubling Use of ICE Detention”

 

I am Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin, Texas and Chairman of the Committee on Migration of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). On behalf of the Committee on Migration, I would like to thank the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, as well as Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren and Ranking Member Ken Buck for the opportunity to submit this written statement for the record. In this statement, I will share the Catholic Church’s perspective on the use of detention by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The practice of long-term and large-scale detention of undocumented adult immigrants and immigrant families within the United States are matters of great concern to the Catholic Church. My statement today focuses on ICE’s enforcement and management of the U.S. immigrant detention system and its attempts to expand detention bed capacity, including for vulnerable populations. Specifically, my statement provides recommendations to Congress regarding family detention, Alternatives to Detention (ATD) programs, and mandatory detention.

  1. Catholic Social Teaching and Opposition to Immigrant Detention

Immigrant detention is an explicit concern of the U.S. Catholic bishops. As stated in Responsibility Rehabilitation and Restoration, A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice: “We bishops have a long history of supporting the rights of immigrants. Therefore, the special circumstance of immigrants in detention centers is of particular concern.”[1]  The USCCB has partnered with ICE to assist individuals released from detention, and has a documented history of working on immigrant detention issues at the community level throughout the U.S.

USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) and its affiliates have operated several ATD programs to assist immigrant families and other vulnerable populations. From 1999 to 2002, INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service), the legacy DHS department, collaborated with Catholic Charities of New Orleans to work with 39 asylum seekers released from detention and 64 “indefinite detainees” who could not be removed from the United States. The court appearance rate for participants was 97%. Further, from January 2014 to March 2015, the USCCB/MRS, in partnership with ICE, ran a community support alternative to detention program through its Catholic Charities partners in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and in Boston, Massachusetts that utilized case management and served individuals who would have not been ordinarily released from detention. The program yielded an over 95% appearance rate.

In addition to working directly with ICE, the USCCB and its Catholic partners around the country have led delegation trips to detention facilities to speak to those detained and observe the flaws in the current system. They have also provided legal services efforts for those detained, as well as offered immigration detention visitation programs, housing efforts, chaplaincy and pastoral outreach efforts, and support for countless families negatively impacted by immigration detention in local communities throughout the U.S. In 2015, USCCB and the Center for Migration Studies conducted a delegation to five ICE detention facilities to observe conditions and provide recommendations for reform, which are documented in our report, Unlocking Human Dignity.[2]

As my brother bishops and I have explained, the Catholic Church views immigrant detention from the perspective of our biblical tradition, which calls us to love, act justly toward, and identify with persons on the margins of society, including newcomers and imprisoned persons. Our long experience as a pilgrim people in a pilgrim church has made us intimately familiar the experience of being with uprooted, persecuted, and imprisoned.

Many Old Testament narratives speak very directly to the reality of migrants and newcomers.  Like many migrants, Jacob’s son, Joseph was sold into involuntary servitude and trafficked to a foreign land, Egypt (Gen 37: 18-36), where he became a devoted and trusted servant (Gen 39: 1-6).  After being falsely accused by his master’s wife, he was imprisoned (Gen 39: 11-20).  Pharaoh ultimately found him “endowed with the spirit of God” and put him in charge of the land of Egypt (Gen 41: 37-41). Given a chance to succeed, Joseph more than fulfilled his responsibilities, by saving the people of Egypt and “the whole world” from the effects of a devastating famine (Gen 41: 55-57).

We have repeatedly spoken of the Gospel imperative to protect the rights of refugees, to promote the reunification of families, and to honor the inherent dignity of all migrants, whatever their status. Unfortunately, the U.S. immigrant detention system represents a far cry from solidarity or communion. It divides us from our brothers and sisters and separates families. We are particularly concerned about family detention, which goes against the basic tenets of Catholic social teaching. Detaining young migrant mothers and fathers with their children as a response to their flight from persecution violates human dignity and human rights. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), for example, has been found to prohibit states from detaining migrant children with their families as it is not in the best interest of the child.[3] And, scholars have found that “[a]lthough the United States has not ratified the CRC, it is nevertheless bound to comply with the ‘best interests of the child’ standard as a matter of both treaty and customary law.”[4]

This is not to say that we do not acknowledge the role of the government in ensuring public safety and agree that those who are a threat to our communities should be detained.  However, mandatory detention contributes to the misconception that all immigrants are criminals and a threat to our unity, security, and well-being. It engenders despair, divides families, causes asylum-seekers to relive trauma, leads many to forfeit their legal claims, and fails to treat immigrants with dignity and respect. More broadly, we believe that human flourishing occurs in relation to others and through participation in society. Detention incapacitates and segregates people, denying them their freedom and preventing their participation in society.

For these reasons, we urge you to consider our recommendations to reform the existing ICE detention system, as set forth below.

II. Policy Recommendations

Current immigrant detention policies are costly, inhumane, and destructive to families, which are the foundation of American society.  Many immigrants are held in detention centers, away from their families and communities, and are unable to access legal assistance or other support. In fact, 81 percent of the individuals currently in detention lack legal representation.[5] Moreover, with an average of over 396,448 immigrants being detained annually at a cost of over $2.5 billion to taxpayers, the immigrant detention system is in disarray and must be fixed.[6]

Specifically, we urge Congress to require ICE to:

A. End Family Detention.

We are deeply concerned by the Trump Administration’s continuation of attempts begun during the Obama Administration to expand its family detention capacity, which is already over 3,000 beds.[7] The President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 appropriations request includes in its $2.7 billion ask for detention bed funding, sufficient resources to support an increase of its family detention network by 10,000 beds.[8] The Trump Administration also recently released a new rule that would curtail existing restrictions, found in the Flores Settlement Agreement of 1997 and corresponding case law, on the detention of accompanied children. If permitted to proceed by the courts, this rule would allow DHS to detain accompanied children for prolonged periods in facilities, including the three existing family detention centers, that have not received state licensing for childcare. We have firmly opposed this rule as it “will have heart-breaking consequences for immigrant children – those whom Pope Francis has deemed ‘the most vulnerable group’ among migrants.”[9]

The health and safety consequences of detaining families in DHS custody are severe. Detained children experience developmental delay, poor psychological adjustment, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and other behavioral problems.[10] In fact, two medical and psychiatric experts hired by DHS itself expressed their concerns with the practice of family detention, noting: “The fundamental flaw of family detention is not just the risk posed by the conditions of confinement – it’s the incarceration of children itself.”[11] Detention, even for brief periods, negatively effects not only the child, but also the adult and family structure by undermining parental authority and the ability of parents to respond to the needs of their children.[12]

In addition to the grave moral and human rights concerns that family detention poses, the costs to maintain such facilities are extreme and irresponsible in this era of fiscal austerity. It is estimated that detaining a member of a family unit in one of these facilities costs the American taxpayer roughly $269 per individual per night.[13] Such expenses to detain families are wasteful and particularly hard to justify when compared to costs for alternatives to detention programs, which range from just 70 cents per day[14] to $36 per day,[15] depending on the type of monitoring involved.

B. Expand Case Management-Focused ATD Programs for Immigrant Families.

A spectrum of ATDs have long existed as an option the government can use in place of mass and family detention. In particular, we ask that Congress direct ICE to focus resources on community support case-management ATD models for recently arrived immigrant families. We appreciate the funding for case-management ATD programming that Congress provided in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019, and we urge further support for and expansion of such programming.

We have seen through our pilot ATD program, as well as through our work serving nearly 900 of the reunified and released families subject to the zero-tolerance policy in 2018,[16] that many immigrants and asylum seekers have strong community ties and credible asylum claims. As a result, these individuals have robust incentives to appear in immigration court, and their release to the community with individualized case management services is both appropriate and preserves family unity and human dignity. [17]

Community-based case management alternatives are effective at ensuring compliance, without using electronic monitoring.[18] For example, the ICE Family Case Management Program (FCMP), which ran from January 2016 through June 2017, had compliance rates of over 99% with court hearings and ICE appointments, all at a cost far below that of detention.[19] And, while critics have suggested that the FCMP was not effective in terms of removal rates,[20] these arguments are unsup­ported by comprehensive data due to the government’s decision to prematurely end the program.

We believe that the key to an ATD program’s success is the extent to which immigrants are oriented as to their rights and provided with robust support.[21] When these elements are present, studies show that ATD participants trust the fairness of the system and are very likely to comply with obligations placed upon them.[22] For these reasons, we encourage ICE to ensure its programs be grounded in trauma-informed care, provide critical connections to social services and legal information, and include a heightened focus on cultural orientations. We also recommend that programs include an individual risk assessment, shared between both DHS and the implementing grantee, to determine an individual’s suitability for enrolment. Finally, we urge Congress to fund an independent study on the effectiveness of such community-based case management alternatives that considers data through the entire life-cycle of the program.

C. End Large Scale Use of Mandatory Immigrant Detention.

Immigrant detention in the United States has reached record levels. This increase can be largely attributed to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which mandated the detention of broad categories of inadmissible or removable non-citizens,[23] including persons subject to “expedited removal” (those who are arrested without documents or with improper documents at ports-of-entry or cannot prove they have been in the United States for at least two years).[24] In fact, the average daily population of those detained rose from 6,785 in 1994 to 55,000 in August 2019;[25] further, the numbers detained annually increased from fewer than 204,459 in 2001 to 396,448 in 2018.[26] And, as of June 2018, an estimated 70 percent of this detained population was subject to mandatory detention.[27] The increase in detention is incredibly costly, with DHS stating that the average immigration detention bed will cost $130 per day in FY 2020.[28]

We are deeply troubled by the current structure of the federal government’s immigrant detention program, which we believe is broken and should be reformed. Mandatory detention is very expensive, and it is unjustifiable to continue to enforce default mandatory detention for most of the immigrants being detained. We therefore urge you to instruct ICE to revisit and revise its implementation of mandatory detention for a majority of immigrants detained by law enforcement.

III.      Conclusion

We must reject proposals to expand our broken and inhumane immigrant detention system and efforts to curtail existing protections for children and families. We are hopeful that as our public officials debate this issue, that migrants, regardless of their legal status, will be treated with dignity and compassion when they arrive to our country. Rhetoric that attacks the human rights and dignity of the migrant is unfitting of a nation of immigrants.

We strongly believe that ending family detention and reforming and moderating the mandatory immigrant detention system should be priorities for Congress and the Administration. We look forward to working with you and the Trump Administration in the months ahead to fashion a more cost-effective and humane immigration detention system – one that upholds the human dignity of immigrants and reaffirms the United States as a nation of immigrants. Thank you for your consideration of our views and recommendations.

 

[1] USCCB, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, A Statement of the Catholic Bishops of the United States (2000).
[2] U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services and The Center for Migration Studies, Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immigrant Detention System (2015), available at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/upload/unlocking-human-dignity.pdf.
[3] Lara Dominguez, et al., Yale Law School, U.S. Detention and Removal of Asylum Seekers 24 (2016), available at https://law.yale.edu/sites/default/files/area/center/schell/document/human_rights_first_-_immigration_detention_-_final_-_20160620_for_publication.pdf.
[4] Id.
[5] See Details on Deportation Proceedings in Immigration Court, TRAC Immigration (Aug. 2019),  https://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/nta/.
[6] See ICE, ERO FY 18 Achievements, https://www.ice.gov/features/ ERO-2018 (last updated Apr. 2, 2019); DHS/ICE, Congressional Budget Justification For FY 2020 16 (2019), available at https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/ publications/19_0318_MGMT_CBJ-Immigration-Customs-Enforcement_0.pdf.
[7] Maria Sacchetti, ICE to Resume Detaining Migrant Families at Texas Facility, The Washington Post (Sept. 21, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/ice-to-resume-detaining-migrant-families-at-texas-facility/2019/09/21/0b3207e8-dcb5-11e9-bfb1-849887369476_story.html.
[8] The White House, A Budget for a Better America: FY 2020 51 (2019), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/budget-fy2020.pdf.
[9] Chair of USCCB’s Committee on Migration Denounces New Rule Undermining Existing Protections for Immigrant Children, USCCB (Aug. 23, 2019), http://www.usccb.org/news/19-154.cfm.
[10] J. M. Linton, et al., Detention of Immigrant Children, 139 PEDIATRICS 1-13 (2017).
[11] Scott Allen, MD & Pamela McPherson, MD, Letter to Senate Whistleblowing Caucus (July 17, 2018), available at https://www.whistleblower.org/sites/default/files/Original%20Docs%20Letter.pdf.
[12] Id. at 6.
[13] DHS/ICE, Congressional Budget Justification For FY 2020, supra note 8, at 16.
[14] Laurence Benenson, The Math of Immigration Detention, 2018 Update: Costs Continue to Multiply (May 9, 2018), https:// immigrationforum.org/article/math-immigration-detention-2018-update-costs-continue-mulitply/.
[15] USCCB, et al., The Real Alternatives to Detention, Justice for Immigrants (2019), https://justiceforimmigrants. org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-Real-Alternatives-to-Detention-FINAL-06.27.17.pdf.
[16] U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS AND LUTHERAN IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE SERVICE, SERVING SEPARATED AND REUNITED FAMILIES: LESSONS LEARNED AND THE WAY FORWARD TO PROMOTE FAMILY UNITY (2018), available at https://justiceforimmigrants.org/2016site/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Serving-Separated-and-Reunited-Families_Final-Report-10.16.18-updated-2.pdf.
[17] USCCB, et al., The Real Alternatives to Detention, supra note 15.
[18] Id.
[19] Id.
[20] See, e.g., Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Hearing on The Implications of the Reinterpretation of the Flores Settlement Agreement for Border Security and Illegal Immigration Incentives (2018), https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/imo/media/ doc/Testimony-Albence-2018-09-18.pdf (discussing concerns with the FCMP during questioning of Matthew T. Albence (ICE)).
[21] USCCB, et al., The Real Alternatives to Detention, supra note 15.
[22] Id.
[23] INA §§ 236 (c)(1); 236A, 212(a)(3)(b); 237(a)(4)(B)).
[24] INA §235.
[25] ICE, FY 2013 YTD Average Daily Population by Detention Facility (2013), http://www.ice.gov/doclib/foia/dfs/detaineepopytd2013.pdf; Representative Roybal-Allard, Letter to Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan (Aug. 23, 2019).
[26] Doris Meissner, Donald Kerwin, Muzaffar Chishti, Claire Bergeron, Migration Policy Institute, Immigration Enforcement In The United States: The Rise Of Formidable Machinery 131 (2013); DOJ Bureau of Statistics, Federal Criminal Case Processing Statistics, https://www.bjs.gov/fjsrc/ (last visited May 28, 2019); ICE, ERO FY 18 Achievements, https://www.ice.gov/features/ ERO-2018 (last updated Apr. 2, 2019).
[27] Andrea Castillo, With or Without Criminal Records, Some Immigrants Spend Many Years in Detention, LA Times (Nov. 12, 2018), https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-immigrant-detainees-20181112-story.html.
[28] DHS/ICE, Congressional Budget Justification For FY 2020, supra note 8, at 16.
2019-09-27T12:53:37-04:00News|

World Day for Migrants and Refugees to be Celebrated on Sunday, September 29

September 25, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C.- The Vatican’s World Day for Migrants and Refugees will be held this Sunday, September 29, 2019. The theme for this year’s celebration is, “It is not just about migrants.” Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, noted of the celebration:

“This year’s theme for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees is an opportunity to look at the migration issue from the lens of humanity, of caring for and walking with our brothers and sisters. The World Day for Migrants and Refugees reminds us that it is not about where people come from but their unique God-given human dignity.” Vásquez noted. “It reflects our call as people of faith to welcome our brothers and sisters, promote their well-being, protect them from cruelty and human indifference, and assist in their integration into our community.”

Support for migrants and refugees is particularly vital in this moment as the world is in the midst of the greatest global forced displacement crisis on record. We must continue to embrace love for our neighbor to counter the growing throwaway culture which disregards the human dignity of migrants and refugees.”

Educational resources related to the upcoming World Day for Migrants and Refugees can be found by visiting the Justice for Immigrants website.

2019-09-25T09:58:35-04:00Statements|

“Oversight Hearing: Mental Health Needs of Children in HHS Custody”

Written Statement of William Canny,

Executive Director U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services

For a Hearing of the House Committee on Appropriations,

Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies

Oversight Hearing: Mental Health Needs of Children in HHS Custody”

 

My name is Bill Canny, and I am the Executive Director of the Department of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). On behalf of USCCB/MRS, I would like to thank the House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, as well as the Subcommittee Chair Representative Rosa DeLauro and Ranking Member Representative Tom Cole for the opportunity to submit this written statement for the record.

The care of unaccompanied immigrant children is of great importance to the Catholic Church. USCCB/MRS has operated programs to help protect unaccompanied children for nearly 40 years, often working in a public/private partnership with the U.S. government. In this statement, I share insights from our work serving these children and their families. I also offer recommendations to help ensure that vulnerable unaccompanied children, including those with mental health needs, are connected to critical support services upon their release from federal custody.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Social Teaching

The Catholic Church in the United States has played a critical role in the care of unaccompanied children, and USCCB/MRS has been a leader in the protection of, and advocacy for, these children. Our work assisting unaccompanied children is rooted in the belief that they, like all God’s children, were created in His image and have a unique and sacred human dignity. We believe that once an unaccompanied child arrives at our border, our nation has a moral obligation to ensure his or her safety and well-being. As Pope Francis has said: “Among migrants, children constitute the most vulnerable group, because as they face the life ahead of them, they are invisible and voiceless.”1

Since 1994, USCCB/MRS has operated the “Safe Passages” program. This program serves unaccompanied immigrant children apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and placed in the custody and care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Through cooperative agreements with ORR, and in collaboration with community-based social service agencies, the Safe Passages program provides community-based residential care (foster care and specialized groups homes) and small- scale shelter placements to unaccompanied children in ORR custody, as well as family reunification services (pre-release placement screenings (home studies)and post-release social services for families). In Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, the USCCB/MRS Safe Passages program served 1,125 youth who arrived as unaccompanied children—907 through our family reunification program and 218 through our residential care program.

In addition to our work serving unaccompanied children through the Safe Passages program, during the summer 2018 USCCB/MRS worked in collaboration with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to assist both DHS and the HHS in their work reunifying separated families.

Besides providing initial humanitarian and reunification assistance, USCCB/MRS worked with families into late 2018 and early 2019 to provide access to social and legal service and case management.USCCB/MRS provided these charitable services because of our belief that such services would help support the separated children and families, reduce their ongoing trauma, and help ensure positive compliance outcomes.

Through this work, we have learned of the trauma that many unaccompanied and separated children have suffered, and we have witnessed the resulting impacts on their mental and emotional health. I attach a report that we issued about the work that we undertook entitled, “Serving Separated and Reunited Families: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward to Promote Family Unity” and ask that this report also be admitted to the record.

Needs of the Children and Importance of Support Services

While poverty and the desire to reunify with family are ongoing motivations for unaccompanied children to migrate, violence in the home and at the community and state levels is a primary factor forcing children to flee El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala (the Northern Triangle of Central America). As a result, unaccompanied children fleeing to the U.S. have often suffered incredible trauma – trauma which may be compounded by violence inflicted upon them during their journeys north.

Take, for example, Lupe,a 14-year-old girl from the Northern Triangle who was referred to USCCB/MRS for services after her release from ORR custody due to past trauma. In her home country, Lupe had been sexually assaulted by a family member and the target of both physical abuse and verbal threats from individuals in her local community. Lupe was further victimized – both sexually and physically – as she fled to the U.S. seeking protection. As a result, Lupe suffered from traumatic stress symptoms, including irregular moods, irritability, nightmares, and behavioral issues; she was eventually diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Similarly, we have seen the terrible consequences for the thousands of children who were unnecessarily separated from their parents and deemed “unaccompanied” as a result of the Administration’s zero-tolerance policy and subsequent separation practices. These children often also experience terrible anxiety and, in some cases, developmental delays. As the American Academy of Pediatrics has noted: “[H]ighly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long- term health.”5

Ensuring that these children’s mental health needs are addressed is critical. One existing tool that can assist with this, as noted by HHS in its response to the recent Office of Inspector General

report,is post-release services (PRS). Post-release services connect referred unaccompanied children and their sponsors to a social services agency for support after the child’s release from ORR care. PRS includes risk assessment and action-planning with families around areas of need and concern, connection to community services, and referral to legal services. Further, for children with mental health concerns, PRS will provide a referral to a qualified mental health services provider and, if needed, a case manager will discuss with the family the importance of therapy. These services are also generally important to help ensure a child’s safe placement, mitigate the risk for family breakdown, facilitate community integration, and help the family understand the need to comply with their immigration court proceedings.

Mariais just one example of a child who has benefited from post-release services. Maria left the Northern Triangle at age 14 due to severe violence she had suffered in her home country. She had been targeted and trafficked by a local gang, and she was sexually assaulted twice before she was able to flee. Thankfully, Maria made it to the U.S. and was released from ORR care with post- release services after receiving a positive home study. Through these services, a USCCB/MRS affiliate was able to connect Maria with a mental health agency within two weeks. She began attending individual therapy weekly and family therapy as well. When the case closed in early 2019, Maria reported that she was continuing to attend therapy to help her address her past trauma. She noted that being connected with her therapist had greatly helped her as she was learning important coping skills and felt much better than when she first arrived in the U.S.

Unfortunately, despite the importance of these post-release services, we know that most unaccompanied children released from ORR care do not receive such services. Additionally, in recent months, even those children who are referred for PRS may wait for weeks or even months before they are connected to a service provider. While ORR is taking steps to address this backlog, thousands of children who qualify for PRS have been released from care without services in place. This is, of course, a concern for any such child, but particularly those with mental health needs who are especially vulnerable.

Recommendations

Considering the importance of post-release services and the concerns discussed above, we respectfully suggest that Congress and ORR:

  • Provide Robust Funding for Expanded Post-Release Services. In accordance with domestic child welfare best practices, Congress should urge ORR to increase the number of unaccompanied children and families receiving post-release services. As noted above, expanded services would increase protection for these children, allow them to be linked to local resources, including mental health services providers, when needed, provide education on immigration court requirements, and provide monitoring of the child’s safety and wellbeing. We note with appreciation the funding provided for such services in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 emergency supplemental appropriations bill, as well as the House FY 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies bill. We hope that as the FY 2020 bill is negotiated with the Senate, and in future appropriations cycles, that funding such services remains a priority.
  • Confirm Adequate Mental Health Referrals and Related Training. ORR should review the guidelines that residential care providers use to refer a child with mental health concerns for post-release services. It should conduct a review to ensure that such referrals are occurring regularly and consistently across its network of providers. Further, it should implement increased training for providers to ensure that they recognize mental health concerns and understand the importance in referring such children for PRS.
  • Work to Identify Additional Risk Factors for Children. We appreciate the steps ORR took in 2016 to designate additional risk factors warranting “discretionary” home studies (those not mandated by law) and corresponding post-release services. We encourage ORR, however, to regularly engage with providers to evaluate new and additional risk factors that could help to indicate groups of unaccompanied children who would benefit from family reunification services.

    For example, we recommend that ORR categorically provide PRS to all children who have been separated from parent or legal guardian at the border. While assisting the separated and reunified families in 2018, USCCB/MRS was able to provide short-term post- reunification assistance to nearly 700 families. Through this process, USCCB/MRS found that many of the reunited children and families were experiencing symptoms of trauma, including separation anxiety. Longer-term post-release services are clearly needed for this population. The three months of services provided by the USCCB/MRS could typically only address the families’ immediate needs in their new communities. Often, it is only at the point in which these immediate needs are addressed that families are ready to start tackling the trauma and stress from which they suffer.

  • Ensure Flexibility to Respond to Newly Identified Needs. Children who are receiving PRS-only services, (those who did not also receive home studies), typically receive services for a shorter period than those children for whom family reunification services (PRS and a home study) are required by law. In some instances, we have seen children appropriately being designated to receive PRS-only services, only for the provider to later discover concerns that would have warranted legally mandated family reunification services (PRS and home study). In our experience, ORR has historically not allowed these children to be re-designated to receive the lengthier services.

    ORR must ensure that that the system maintains flexibility to address such situations. When risk factors are identified by service providers, it should allow for re-designation of the child for legally-mandated PRS, even after release, so that the child can receive services through the pendency of his or her immigration court proceedings. We have found that month-to-month extensions of PRS, which can be granted by ORR and are appreciated, do not fully address these concerns as they do not allow PRS providers to engage in long-term service planning.

Conclusion

Unaccompanied and separated children are among the most vulnerable arriving at our border. We must recognize their vulnerability and look for ways to address their trauma and help alleviate their suffering. This is both our moral obligation and reflective of who we are as a nation of historical refuge. As always, USCCB/MRS stands ready to offer our support to Congress and HHS/ORR to improve protections and services for these children.

Read the PDF version of the Testimony Here

 

Pope Francis, 2017 World Day of Migrants and Refugees Message (September 8, 2016), available at https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20160908_world- migrants-day-2017.html.
2During a home study, a community-based case worker assesses the safety and suitability of the proposed caregiver and placement, including the caregiver’s capacity to meet the child’s unique needs, any potential risks of the placement, and the caregiver’s motivation and commitment to care for the child. Home studies result in a recommendation on whether placement with the proposed caregiver is in the child’s best interest.
3U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS AND LUTHERAN IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE SERVICE, SERVING
SEPARATED AND REUNITED FAMILIES: LESSONS LEARNED AND THE WAY FORWARD TO PROMOTE FAMILY UNITY (2018), available at https://justiceforimmigrants.org/2016site/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Serving-Separated-and- Reunited-Families_Final-Report-10.16.18-updated-2.pdf.
4Name and identifying information changed to protect client confidentiality.
5Colleen Kraft, AAP Statement Opposing Separation of Children and Parents at the Border (May 8, 2018), https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press- room/Pages/StatementOpposingSeparationofChildrenandParents.aspx.
6HHS OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL, CARE PROVIDER FACILITIES DESCRIBED CHALLENGES ADDRESSING MENTAL
HEALTH NEEDS OF CHILDREN IN HHS CUSTODY (2019), available at https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-09-18- 00431.pdf.
7Name and identifying information changed to protect client confidentiality.
2019-09-17T11:22:11-04:00News|

USCCB President and Migration Chair Urge Against Further Reduction in Refugee Resettlement as Contrary to American Values

September 13, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. —Administration officials will reportedly recommend to President Trump that the number of refugee admissions for the coming year will be fewer than 30,000 refugees, already an historic low. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, Chair of USCCB Committee on Migration, issued the following statement:

“Further reductions in the number of refugees allowed to seek freedom in the United States would be wholly counter to our values as a nation of immigrants. America welcomes refugees; that is who we are, that is what we do. Such reductions would undermine America’s leadership role as a global champion and protector of religious freedom and human rights. Beginning with European refugees in the aftermath of World War I, the Catholic Church in the United States has more than a century of experience resettling vulnerable populations to a safer life and one in which they have contributed to the greatness of America. The 3.4 million refugees that America has welcomed since 1975 have paid billions of dollars in taxes, founded companies, earned citizenship, and bought homes at notably high rates.

As the Catholic Church prepares to celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 29th, we are reminded of Pope Francis urging us all to work for a ‘globalization of solidarity’ with refugees, not a globalization of ‘indifference’. In light of refugees’ extraordinary contributions to our country, and of the world’s struggle with the greatest forced displacement crisis on record and historic highs in religious persecution, we categorically oppose any further reductions in the refugee resettlement program.”

2019-09-13T10:33:37-04:00Statements|