Dear Secretary Nielsen and Acting Secretary Sullivan:
On behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS), I write to express our deep concern over the manner in which the Central American Minors (CAM) Program is being terminated. Through our work with our Catholic Charities network, we are seeing that many children and their families have not be able to receive services, such as refugee interviews by Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that were stated by DHS to be part of the wind down. We encourage you to review the wind-down process and ensure that the program is ended in an orderly, just, and humane manner that is consistent with past practice for refugee pipeline closures. Specifically, we request that you resume interviewing cases until review is complete for all individuals who timely submitted CAM applications. At a minimum, we urge you to consider additional stakeholder engagement on the termination and alternative protection programming in the region.
The Catholic Church has a significant pastoral interest in the welfare and humane treatment of migrant children. The Church views assisting those in need as a fundamental Christian duty that is derived from the life of Christ, who himself was a migrant and a child of refugees. USCCB/MRS works to support vulnerable youth and their families in part through the CAM program. Through our network, we are proud to have supported more than 3,300 families in applying for the program.
We know from our many years serving refugees the importance of closing a refugee pipeline in a responsible and humane manner. It is our understanding that past refugee pipeline closures have typically occurred due to changed country conditions. Recent reports demonstrate that, unfortunately, such improvements in conditions have not occurred in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala)1. Even in instances of changed circumstances, however, the best and typical practice is to complete processing on all individuals in the pipeline and to align closure deadlines with when such work can be completed. The CAM program closure has departed from this practice.
With the announcement of the CAM program wind down on November 8, 2017, the Department of State (DOS) stated that CAM cases would be considered timely submitted if filed by 11:59pm EST on November 9, 2017. We and our affiliates worked to diligently comply with this very tight turnaround date. We learned on February 9, 2018, however, that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had stopped interviewing CAM applicants as of January 31st, even though at least 500 cases served by USCCB/MRS and most likely thousands of applicants throughout the program had yet to receive a refugee interview. Many of these children and their families had already submitted to blood and identification testing, paid related fees, and expended extensive time and resources to proceed with the application. As a result of the failure to be interviewed, many now face deep disappointment, fear, and heightened protection concerns.
Mario* and his two young daughters are just one of the impacted families. Mario feared daily for his daughters’ safety in Honduras after his older son was brutally killed. It was this fear that spurred him to apply for his daughters to join him in the U.S. through the CAM program. After over a year of navigating the complex application process, he was devastated to learn of the program’s cancellation. Without this vital legal avenue to seek protection for his girls, he is losing hope.
In addition to Mario’s own anxiety and sadness, our program has had to spend countless staff hours performing education, outreach, and counseling to impacted families as little government-generated information and educational material has been created or shared with providers by your offices. In particular, we were disappointed to see that the DOS case closure letters were only provided in English and that they lacked information on: (1) when applicants could expect to receive DNA reimbursements; (2) where those who continue to face serious safety and protection concerns can find information on the governmental and non-profit services referenced in the letter; and (3) what the process and requirements are for applying for humanitarian parole outside of the CAM program.
In light of these concerns, we urge you to reconsider the way in which the pipeline is closed and to resume processing cases until all timely filed applicants are interviewed. To do otherwise is unjust, arbitrary, and inconsistent with years of past practice. At a minimum, additional stakeholder engagement is needed.
Additionally, we urge you to consider alternative protection programming in the Northern Triangle. Given the pervasive and persistent violence and persecution in the region, terminating the CAM program without alternatives in place may contribute to increased forced and irregular migration. In-state child protection institutions and other refugee programming remain insufficient to accommodate displacement in the region. Without alternative programming, we fear children will be forced to make the dangerous journey north alone, putting them at risk for exploitation and human trafficking. We are happy to engage our Catholic service network in the region to meet with you and suggest ways to partner on this very important issue.
We thank you for your consideration and would appreciate an opportunity to meet with you to further discuss these concerns and recommendations.
1 See, e.g., U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS / MIGRATION AND REFUGEE SERVICES, TEMPORARY PROTECTED STATUS: A VITAL PIECE OF THE CENTRAL AMERICAN PROTECTION AND PROSPERITY PUZZLE 5-6 (OCTOBER 2017), available at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/fact-finding-mission-reports/upload/el-salvador-honduras-report-20171016.pdf (discussing the increase in family targeted violence in the region).
* Name and identifying information changed to protect client confidentiality.
U.S. Bishops’ Migration Chairman Supports Southern Border Bishops Concerns Over White House Decision to Deploy National Guard at U.S./Mexico Border
April 11, 2018
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Catholic Bishops of the southern border issued a statement on April 6, 2018, regarding their deep concern over the Administration’s decision to deploy the National Guard at the U.S./Mexico border. Bishop Joe Vásquez, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, today issued the following statement in support of the Southern Border Bishops and in response to the Administration’s recent actions:
“On behalf of the USCCB Committee on Migration, I fully affirm the concerns voiced by the U.S. Bishops of the southern border regarding the presence of the National Guard at the U.S./Mexico border. Current law entitles those fleeing persecution and arriving in our country to due-process as their claims are reviewed. As the border bishops state: ‘Seeking refuge from persecution and violence in search of a peaceful life for oneself and one’s family is not a crime.’ Our faith calls us to respond with compassion to those who suffer and seek safe haven; we ask our government to do the same as it seeks to safely and humanely secure the border.”
April 6, 2018 – In response to announcements regarding deploying the United States National Guard to the U.S./Mexico Border, the U.S. Catholic Bishops of the U.S./Mexico Border issued the following statement:
We are deeply concerned by the announcement that the National Guard will be deployed on the U.S./Mexico Border. The continued militarization of the U.S./Mexico Border distorts the reality of life on the border; this is not a war zone but instead is comprised of many peaceful and law-abiding communities that are also generous in their response to human suffering. We recognize the right of nations to control and secure their borders; we also recognize the need of nations to respect the rule of law. Current law in the United States rightly provides that those arriving to our country fleeing persecution are entitled to due-process as their claims are reviewed. Seeking refuge from persecution and violence in search of a peaceful life for oneself and one’s family is not a crime. Our faith calls us to respond with compassion to those who suffer, and to live in a spirit of solidarity with all human beings. We remain hopeful that our local, state and federal officials will work collaboratively and prudently in the implementation of this deployment, ensuring that the presence of the National Guard is measured and not disruptive to community life. We are also deeply concerned that at this time divisive rhetoric often promotes the dehumanization of immigrants, as if all were threats and criminals. We urge Catholics and people of good will to look past the dehumanizing rhetoric regarding immigrants and remember that they are a vulnerable population, our neighbors, and our sisters and brothers in Christ.
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, Archdiocese of San Antonio
Bishop Daniel E. Flores, Diocese of Brownsville
Bishop Michael J. Sis, Diocese of San Angelo
Bishop James Tamayo, Diocese of Laredo
Bishop Mark J. Seitz, Diocese of El Pasp
Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger, Diocese of Tuscon
Bishop Robert W. McElroy, Diocese of San Diego
Bishop Oscar Cantú, Diocese of Las Cruses