News

/News

U.S. Bishops’ Office of Migration and Refugee Services and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service Release Report on Agencies Assisting Trump Administration with Family Reunification

October 17, 2018

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), released its report today, entitled Serving Separated and Reunited Families: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward to Promote Family Unity, which documents the work of Catholic and Lutheran agencies who assisted the Administration with reuniting separated families during the month of July.

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, in a letter of introduction of the report states:  “I am proud of the response of USCCB/MRS, LIRS and of our Catholic (in particular CCUSA and the Catholic Charities network) and Lutheran partners around the country, including my brother bishops, to be able to work with the Administration to provide support to these vulnerable families.”  He further states: “USCCB/MRS (in collaboration with 75 Catholic Charities agencies) and LIRS continue to provide assistance including helping families comply with their immigration obligations. I believe the recommendations made [in this report] are important and should be seriously considered in order to avoid pain and suffering in the future caused by the separation of families.”

In July 2018, USCCB/MRS and LIRS assisted over 1200 families who were reunified after being separated due to the Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy. The report highlights the work that was undertaken by Catholic and Lutheran partners on the ground and gives a unique data point regarding the separated and reunited families.

Resources and information about family separation and the report are available on the Justice for Immigrants website www.justiceforimmigrants.org. Included is a backgrounder on family separation and information about the current release practices of immigrant families at the U.S./Mexico border and their immigration compliance requirements.

The full text of the report can be found here.

2018-10-17T09:48:18+00:00News|

Testimony For a Hearing of the Full Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs

Written Statement of

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

For a Hearing of the
Full Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs

“The Implications of the Reinterpretation of the Flores Settlement Agreement for Border Security and Illegal Immigration Incentives”

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 Dirksen Senate Office Building 342

1. Introduction

My name is William Canny. 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 Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, Chairman Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Ranking Member Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) for the opportunity to submit this written statement for the record.

USCCB/MRS has operated programs, working in a public/private partnership with the U.S. government, to help protect unaccompanied children from all over the world for nearly 40 years. Additionally, the Catholic Church in the United States has long worked to support immigrant families who have experienced immigrant detention, providing legal assistance and pastoral accompaniment and visitation within immigrant detention facilities, as well as social assistance upon release. Through this work, we have seen the importance of the protections set forth in the Flores Settlement Agreement of 1997 (Flores),1 and we have worked to help implement and ensure government compliance with these requirements.

In this statement, I give context to what we are seeing as the primary factors leading to forced migration of children and families, share insights from our work serving unaccompanied and accompanied children and their families, and offer recommendations to: (1) address root causes of migration; (2) help ensure that immigrant children and families are protected and treated with dignity; and (3) ensure such children and families are in compliance with their immigration proceedings, while maintaining the existing protections of Flores.

2. Catholic Experience Assisting Immigrant Families and Children in Federal Custody

Since 1994, USCCB/MRS has operated the “Safe Passages” program. This program serves undocumented 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 small-scale shelter placements) to unaccompanied children in ORR custody, as well as family reunification services (pre-release placement screening and post-release social services for families). In fiscal year 2017, the USCCB/MRS Safe Passages program served 1,294 youth who arrived as unaccompanied children—1,042 through the family reunification program and 252 through the residential care programs.

In addition to providing programming and care for unaccompanied children, the Catholic Church has been a leading service provider for detained immigrant families, as well as a vocal opponent2 against family detention. Immigrant detention, particularly the detention of families and children, is an explicit and long-standing concern of the Catholic Church. Each day, the Church witnesses the baleful effects of immigrant detention in ministry, including pastoral and legal work in prisons and detention centers. Catholic entities serve separated families that struggle to maintain a semblance of normal family life and host support groups for the spouses of detained and deported immigrants. We lament the growth of family detention centers, which undermine families and harm children. We have seen case after case of families who represent no threat or danger, but who are nonetheless treated as criminals and detained for reasons of enforcement. We further view immigrant detention from the perspective of Biblical tradition, which calls us to care for, act justly toward, and identify with persons on the margins of society, including newcomers and imprisoned persons.

Besides advocating for reform of the existing detention system, USCCB/MRS has operated several alternatives to detention programs to assist immigrant families and other vulnerable populations. From 1999 – 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%. From January 2014 to March 2015, the USCCB/MRS (in partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (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 and included four family units. Additionally, from 2015-2016, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) provided direct legal service assistance to families held in the family detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico. CLINIC also currently provides direct legal assistance to families in the South Texas Family Residential Facility in Dilley, Texas through the CARA Pro Bono Project.3

3. Understanding the Root Causes That Are Forcing Children and Families to Flee

U.S. government officials have recently made public statements4 attempting to frame the Flores Settlement Agreement as a pull factor for arriving asylum-seeking families coming to the United States. The reality, however, is that violence and internal displacement continue within the Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) unabated and that much of the violence is targeted at the vulnerable families and children who are subsequently forced to flee for safety. Through our work on the ground with Catholic partners, we know that entire families, not just children, are currently facing targeted violence and displacement. It is these realities – gang and domestic violence, impunity, and lack of opportunity related to displacement and violence – that cause families to flee north for protection, not awareness of Flores and its legal litigation progeny. Due to conditions in the Northern Triangle, families face forced migration; and, many of these families are truly fleeing persecution. As such, they should not be held in detention facilities but instead be allowed to pursue their asylum claims in a more humane and cost-effective manner. Proposed changes to Flores will erode existing protections for such asylum-seeking children, while ignoring the larger holistic migration issue that must be addressed on a regional level.

The Church in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is experiencing, publicly reflecting on, and responding to the escalation of violence in urban communities, in rural communities, and to family units. In his pastoral letter, “I See Violence and Strife in the City,” Most Reverend José Luis Escobar Alas, Archbishop of San Salvador, stated: “[t]he faithful know that they are being monitored in their comings and goings in the communities. The same applies to pastoral agents who are constantly watched . . . The exodus of families is heartbreaking . . . It is truly unfortunate and painful that the Church cannot work because of this atmosphere of insecurity and anxiety that shakes our beloved country.”5 The Archbishop describes one parish alone that in one year was “exposed to murder, persecution, exodus, and extortion,” including the murder of six active parishioners by stabbing, dismemberment, or firearms.6

The presence of the gangs is widespread and continues to grow. Some studies assert there are 70,000 gang members in El Salvador alone, while others cite lower numbers for El Salvador but up to 22,000 members in Guatemala.7 Extortion is the driving force behind the gang growth and control. It represents a direct cost to businesses of $756 million/year in El Salvador.8 Extortion is considered one of the leading causes of forced displacement of families in gang-controlled communities. In many cases, gang violence directed at a person involves threats to his or her whole family group and breaks down the social fabric of communities, as people are forced to flee with their families.

This targeting of entire families is a relatively newer element in the Northern Triangle and corresponds to the higher numbers of asylum-seeking families that the U.S. has apprehended in the last few years.9 Many Catholic and other civil society NGO service organizations that serve people affected by violence and forced displacement10 have attempted to attend to people who frequently leave their homes against their will to save their own and their families’ lives. Many families initially seek safety in other areas within their home countries. As these families have been victimized to the point of being forced to move and be displaced from their homes, they then often struggle to acclimate to the new communities in which they are living. Facing hardships relating to finding employment and securing safety (given the widespread gang networks), families begin to feel increasingly desperate to migrate to find safe and secure living conditions. As such they begin to look to leave their home countries and migrate internationally in search of protection. This was the case for Reyna11 and her family:

Reyna and her two daughters lived in El Salvador in a neighborhood that was contested gang territory. The dangers of the area were evidenced by the murders of her children’s fathers. Reyna lived near a house that gang members would bring women they kidnapped. One evening, eight gang members came and informed Reyna that she knew too much about the gang’s involvement; they informed her that she must join the gang as a girlfriend or be killed. Reyna and her daughters fled her community and moved to another town in El Salvador. For a short time, Reyna was able to prosper, but the gangs quickly found her. This time, they threatened her and demand that both she and her daughter join the gang as girlfriends. Reyna fled north immediately with no possessions. Reyna was detained at the South Texas Family Residential Facility in Dilley, Texas, in 2016 with her two daughters. She was assisted by the CARA Pro Bono Project and passed her credible fear interview and was subsequently released from family detention. She is currently applying for asylum.

Reyna and her family have experienced extreme trauma with mental health consequences. When interviewed about her experience, Reyna, like many asylum-seeking parents who make the dangerous journey with their children, spoke of the desire to stay in El Salvador, her efforts to relocate prior to migrating north, and her desire to find safety and protection for her daughters.

Amending the Flores Settlement Agreement will not stop mothers like Reyna from coming and seeking protection in the United States. Rather, it will ensure that more families like Reyna and her daughters experience the long-lasting consequences of prolonged detention.

4. Altering Flores to Expand Family Detention Would Harm Both Children and Taxpayers

The Flores Settlement Agreement was the result of over a decade of litigation. Flores sets forth foundational principles and critical protections regarding the care, custody, and release of immigrant children – both accompanied and unaccompanied – who are in federal custody.12 The agreement, which the federal government voluntarily entered into, requires (in part) that: facilities provide children in their custody with access to sanitary and temperature-controlled conditions, water, food, medical assistance, ventilation, adequate supervision, and contact with family members;13 facilities ensure that children are not held with unrelated adults;14 the government release children from detention without unnecessary delay to parents or other approved sponsors;15 and if a child cannot be released from care, the child be placed in the “least restrictive” setting appropriate, based on his or her age and needs.16 As it relates to the custody of children, Flores also mandates that the government typically transfer immigrant children to facilities that are licensed by the state for childcare.17

The three family detention facilities – Karnes County Residential Center, Berks Family Residential Center, and South Texas Family Residential Center – currently operate a combined 3,326 beds.18 These facilities are not licensed for childcare in their respective states and, as such, fail to meet basic child welfare requirements set forth in Flores. Further, because the family detention centers are unlicensed, the federal government is limited in the amount of time it can detain an accompanied child in these facilities. The District Court for the Central District of California has previously allowed that during times of influx or emergency, the government may detain children in unlicensed facilities for a period of 20 days and still meet its obligations under Flores;19 however, in its latest petition to the court, the government sought to detain children in unlicensed facilities indefinitely.20 The court rejected this request.21 Nevertheless, the Administration continues to suggest that amending this requirement is necessary.22

Proposals such as these are deeply troubling and would have severe implications for accompanied children, their families, and the U.S. taxpayer. If Flores is amended or limited, many of the accompanied children entering the country with their parents would face the possibility of being forced to remain in detention through the duration of their immigration proceedings. Such changes would allow these children to be held for periods longer than 20 days and in detention facilities that are not licensed to care for them. Licensing requirements are vital to ensure that facilities meet basic child welfare standards and children are protected from abuse. Further, holding children in family detention has been proven to have long-lasting negative consequences. For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics has reported that detained children experience developmental delay, poor psychological adjustment, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and other behavioral problems. Even brief stints in detention can lead to psychological trauma and lasting mental health risks.23

Additionally, detaining families that do not present a flight or safety risk is an unnecessary use of limited DHS resources. Costs in FY 2019 are anticipated to be $319 per individual/per day for those in family detention.24 In comparison, alternative programs such as the Family Case Management Program cost only $36 per individual/per day and had a 99% compliance rate.25 Proposals to alter Flores consistently ignore the fact that DHS has a spectrum of humane, proven, and cost-effective alternatives to detention that it can utilize (and is utilizing in some cases) to monitor released families.

5. Recommendations to Maintain Existing Flores Protection While Ensuring Humane Enforcement

In light of these concerns and vulnerabilities, we recommend the following ways in which we can provide humane care to immigrant children and families in accordance with Flores and still ensure compliance with our immigration laws and fairness to U.S. taxpayers:

  • Invest Robustly in a Variety of Alternatives to Detention. Congress should more robustly fund alternatives to detention in the DHS budget. Congress should also ensure that DHS is working to undertake and pilot diverse alternatives to detention programming – in the form of the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) as well as alternatives to detention programming that utilize case management and, in some cases, NGO civil society participation. Congress should instruct DHS to publicly report on the outcomes of these programs and ensure that a continual pilot period is undertaken to secure transparent and viable data on the effectiveness of such programs.
  • Create Greater Capacity for Effectuating Legal Outcomes for Asylum-Seeking Families. Congress should further invest in augmenting the capacity of the immigration courts by hiring more judges and providing additional funding for new courtroom facilities. Additionally, Congress should ensure robust funding for legal information programs such as the Legal Orientation Program and the Information Help Desk, which do not fund immigration counsel but help provide information to detained and released immigrants to ensure they know more about compliance requirements.
  • Address Root Causes of Migration with Trauma-Informed Responses. More interdisciplinary programming and funding needs to be implemented to address root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle. Programming must address the actual social service needs of vulnerable children and families who are currently in forced migration situations. Special consideration should be given to funding initiatives like safe repatriation services, home country needs assessments and referrals, and aid that strengthens educational and work opportunities.
  • Maintain Existing Protections for Unaccompanied and Accompanied Children. Given the long- lasting physical and mental consequences of detention on children, proposals seeking to alter existing safeguards relating to such detention must be firmly rejected. Immigrant children should be viewed as children first and foremost.
  • Augment Existing Trafficking Training and Prevention Tools to Ensure Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Can Adequately Screen and Identify Trafficking Situations. To the extent there are concerns about traffickers using children to enter the U.S. and avoid detention, Congress should ensure that appropriate funding and resources are dedicated to the training of CBP officers on this topic. In particular, CBP should utilize NGOs with experience and expertise in anti-trafficking in their training efforts.

Conclusion

As always, USCCB/MRS stands ready to offer our assistance to Congress and the Administration to address the root causes of forced migration and ensure families are treated with dignity but also understand and comply with their immigration requirements.

Click Here for a PDF of the Testimony

 

Settlement Agreement, Flores v. Reno, Case No. CV 85-4544-RJK (C.D. CA, 1997), available at[1]
https://cliniclegal.org/sites/default/files/attachments/flores_v._reno_settlement_agreement_1.pdf
2  The Catholic Bishops addressed immigrant detention explicitly in Responsibility Rehabilitation and Restoration, A
Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, stating: “We bishops have a long history of supporting the rights of immigrants. The special circumstance of immigrants in detention centers is of particular concern. [The government] uses a variety of methods to detain immigrants some of them clearly inappropriate.” USCCB, Responsibility Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice (Nov. 15, 2000), available at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/criminal-justice-restorative- justice/crime-and-criminal-justice.cfm  Additionally, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, then-Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, wrote to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson in 2015 opposing family detention, declaring that “it is inhumane to house young mothers with children in restrictive detention facilities as if they are criminals.” USCCB Chairman Decries Opening of Family Detention Center in Dilley, Texas, Proposes More Humane Alternatives to Detention for Vulnerable Families, USCCB (December 16,2004), http://www.usccb.org/news/2014/14-201.cfm
3  The CARA Pro Bono Project is a joint effort by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, American
Immigration Council, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, and RAICES. It operates out of the South Texas Family
Residential Facility in Dilley Texas, assisting with direct immigration services since 2015.
4   In  its  September  12,  2018  statement  on  the  August  U.S.  Mexico  Border  numbers,  DHS  states:  “Smugglers  and
traffickers understand our broken immigration laws better than most and know that if a family unit illegally enters the U.S. they are likely to be released into the interior. Specifically, DHS is required to release families entering the country illegally within 20 days of apprehension.” Statement of DHS Press Secretary on August Border Numbers, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (September 12, 2018), https://www.dhs.gov/news/2018/09/12/statement-dhs-press-secretary- august-border-numbers
5  Most Reverend Jose Luis Escobar Alas, I See Violence and Strife in the City: A Pastoral Letter on the Occasion of the
Feast of the Beloved Blessed Oscar Romero, 18 (March 24, 2016).
Id. at 15.
7  INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP, MAFIA OF THE POOR: GANG VIOLENCE AND EXTORTION IN CENTRAL AMERICA 17 (2017), available at
https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/062-mafia-of-the-poor_0.pdf ; United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime
(UNODC)Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean, a threat assessment”, 2012.
Id.
See, e.g., United States Border Patrol Southwest Family Unit Subject and Unaccompanied Alien Children
Apprehensions Statement on Fiscal Year 2013- 2016, CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION (Oct. 18, 2016),
https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/southwest-border-unaccompanied-children/fy-2016 .
10  The issue of forced internal displacement is especially troublesome in El Salvador and Honduras. In 2016, El
Salvador was second in the world in terms of the number of new displacements relative to population size, exceeding countries such as Libya, South Sudan, and Afghanistan. There are an estimated 220,000-400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in El Salvador, many displaced by violence but not officially recognized by the government. The Salvadoran government’s inability to publicly acknowledge the issue of IDPs who are displaced due to violence prevents larger measures to address protection frameworks from being implemented to assist with this migration phenomenon. In Honduras, UNHCR estimates that there are 174,000 IDPs. A recent study estimates that from 2004 -2014, approximately 41,000 households within 20 municipalities were internally displaced because of violence or insecurity. INTERNAL DISPLACEMENT MONITORING CENTRE, 2016 GLOBAL REPORT INTERNAL DISPLACEMENT IN 2016 (2017), available at http://internal-displacement.org/global-report/grid2017/ ; UNHCR HONDURAS FACT SHEET (March 2017), available at http://reporting.unhcr.org/sites/default/files/UNHCR%20Honduras%20Fact%20Sheet%20-%20March%202017.pdf ; INTERINSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION FOR PROTECTION OF DISPLACED PEOPLE DUE TO VIOLENCE, CHARACTERIZATION OF INTERNAL DISPLACEMENT IN HONDURAS 12 (2015).
11  Name and identifying information changed to protect client confidentiality.
12  When the U.S. government began detaining family units together in 2014, the U.S. District Court for the CentralDistrict of California ruled that “accompanied” children were also protected under the principles of Flores, including those who were being held in family detention facilities. The Ninth Circuit Court affirmed this decision in 2016.
13  Flores, supra note 1, at 7-8.
14  Id. at 8.
15  Id. at 6.
16  Id. at 4.
17  Id. at 5-6.
18  Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children, 83 Fed. Reg.
45,486, 45,512 (Sept. 7, 2018).
19  Jenny L. Flores, et al. v. Jefferson B. Sessions, III, et al., Case No. CV 85-4544, Dkt. No. 363, 30-31 (C.D. Cal. June 27,
2017), available at https://www.aila.org/File/Related/14111359v.pdf .
20  Jenny L. Flores, et al. v. Jefferson B. Sessions, III, et al., Case No. CV 85-4544, Dkt. No. 455, 3-4 (C.D. Cal. July 9,
2018), available at https://www.aila.org/File/Related/14111359ac.pdf .
21  Id. at 7.
22  83 Fed. Reg. at 45,494.
23  JULIE M. LINTON, ET AL., AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS, DETENTION OF IMMIGRANT CHILDREN 6 (2017), available at
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2017/03/09/peds.2017-0483.full.pdf .
2018-09-17T22:01:25+00:00News|

USCCB Testimony For a Hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

Written Statement of

Mr. Bill Canny Executive Director

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

 

For a Hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

“Oversight of Efforts to Protect Unaccompanied Alien Children from Human Trafficking and Abuse”

 

My name is Bill Canny. 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 Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, as well as the Subcommittee Chair Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Ranking Member Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) 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, working in a public/private partnership with the U.S. government, to help protect unaccompanied children from all over the world for nearly 40 years and trafficking victims for more than 10 years. In this statement, I share insights from our work serving these children and their families and offer recommendations to help ensure that unaccompanied children are protected from situations of abuse and human trafficking.

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

The Catholic Church in the United States has played a critical role in the care of unaccompanied children and prevention of human trafficking, and USCCB/MRS has been a leader in the protection of and advocacy for unaccompanied children and human trafficking survivors. 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.

Since 1994, USCCB/MRS has operated the “Safe Passages” program. This program serves undocumented 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 small-scale shelter placements) to unaccompanied children in ORR custody, as well as family reunification services (pre-release placement screening and post-release social services for families). In fiscal year 2017, the USCCB/MRS Safe Passages program served 1,294 youth who arrived as unaccompanied children—1,042 through the family reunification program and 252 through the residential care programs.

In collaboration with HHS and the Department of Justice, and through private programming, USCCB/MRS also provides critical case-management, employment services, and victim identification training to help prevent human trafficking and to assist those victimized by it, including unaccompanied children. As Catholics, we believe that such work and efforts to combat human trafficking are, as Pope Francis has aptly stated, “a moral imperative.”1

Preventing Abuse and Trafficking of Unaccompanied Children

Once an unaccompanied child arrives at our border, we have a moral obligation to ensure his or her safety and wellbeing. 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.”2

a. The Importance of Family Reunification Services

Facilitating release of unaccompanied children to family or “sponsors” pending their immigration removal proceedings is both a humane and fiscally-sound policy. Not only is reunification with family typically in a child’s best interest, but maintaining children in government custody is incredibly costly.3 It is vital, however, to ensure that families are supported and connected to community resources, that they understand their legal obligations, and, most importantly, that children are not released to unsafe situations.

As a social service provider, we have seen that unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, domestic servitude, and other exploitative situations. In the case of children in a forced migration context, prior victimization in their home country or during their journey to the United States, debts incurred for smuggling or transit fees, and their undocumented status are all characteristics that put them at heightened risk and make them easy prey for traffickers and others with ill intent.

Family reunification services – home studies and post-release services – are therefore vital to promote safe placements of children in appropriate environments. During 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. Post-release services (PRS) include risk assessment and action-planning with families around areas of need and concern, connection to community services, and referral to legal services. Consequently, these services are not only critical to ensuring a child’s safe placement, but they also mitigate the risk for family breakdown, facilitate community integration, and help the family understand the need to comply with their immigration court proceedings.

While some recent improvements have been made to address the gaps in adequate family reunification services, the vast majority of unaccompanied children released from ORR care do not receive these important services. In fact, in FY 2017, ORR provided family reunification services for less than thirty-two percent of the 42,416 children released from its care – with only seven percent of youth receiving home studies.

Unfortunately, we know that the limited use of these services has resulted in children being released to unsafe placements, including situations of abuse and trafficking, and left without vital services for which they qualify under law. These are children like Raul,4 a teenager from Central America who suffered severe abuse in his home country. Raul’s uncle “sold” his sisters and physically abused Raul. Raul has scars all over his body from the severe abuse, but Raul fears telling his sponsor (who is his biological father) because his uncle threatened his mother’s life if anyone learned of the situation. As a result of this trauma, Raul is now wetting the bed, having nightmares, and constantly fears for his mother’s safety. Despite this past abuse and clear need for family reunification services, including counseling services, Raul was released from ORR care without a home study or post-release services. USCCB/MRS was alerted to this case by Raul’s legal counsel.

b. The Unintended Risks of Information Sharing

In addition to the underutilization of these valuable family reunification tools, we also believe that certain elements of well-intentioned policy changes regarding information-sharing of sponsors may put children at increased risk. In May 2018, ORR and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) mandating continuous information-sharing on unaccompanied immigrant children beginning when CBP or ICE takes the children into custody through their release from ORR custody.5 This includes information sharing on the children’s potential sponsors, as well as anyone else living with the sponsors. One intent of such information sharing is to improve sponsor vetting and ensure safe placement of children, which we greatly appreciate and consider to be beneficial.

We are concerned, however, that the MOA may have severe unintended consequences in terms children’s increased length of stay in ORR custody and the increased possibility of risk for abuse or trafficking. We are troubled over the possibility of these unintended consequences because the MOA fails to place any limitations on the use a sponsor’s data by ICE and CBP. Without any limitations on and sufficient communication about the use of such data, family reunifications, the fundamental principle of child welfare, may likely be undermined by turning safe placement screening into a mechanism for immigration enforcement or, in the least, may be perceived by the immigrant community as such. It is anticipated that the MOA, as written, may accelerate not only the decline in releases to parents, but also releases overall, leading to longer and costly stays in ORR custody. USCCB/MRS is also highly concerned that, given the MOA, undocumented family members may fear coming forward to sponsor their children, instead seeking – or even paying – documented individuals in the community to come forward and claim to be a child’s sponsor. This type of arrangement will put unaccompanied children and their families at increased risk of exploitation and trafficking by the third-party.

Recommendations

In light of these concerns and vulnerabilities, we recommend the following ways in which the important child protection and human trafficking prevention work of ORR can be strengthened:

* Clearly Designate Responsibilities of ORR After Release. Congress should pass legislation to ensure that ORR is clearly authorized to provide for the care of children even after their release to a sponsor. Unfortunately, USCCB/MRS has witnessed instances in which a sponsor placement breaks down but Children’s Protective Services (CPS) is unwilling to get involved and take custody of the child. In some of these instances, it has also been difficult to get ORR to resume care for the child.

We appreciate Senator Portman’s attention to this issue and the efforts of all the offices engaged in bipartisan discussions to try to find a solution. We also welcomed the willingness of Senate offices to engage providers like USCCB/MRS in the conversation. We look forward to seeing what comes out of these discussions.

* Increase Funding for Family Reunification Services. In accordance with domestic child welfare best practices, Congress should urge ORR to increase the number unaccompanied children and families receiving family reunification services. As noted above, expanded family reunification services would increase protection for these children, allow them to be linked to local resources, provide education on immigration court requirements, and also provide monitoring of the child’s safety and wellbeing – promoting the overall safety of our communities. We note that such programming should focus on strengthening the family to best promote long-term placement stability and integration.

* 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). We encourage ORR, however, to regularly engage with providers to evaluate new and additional risk factors that could help to indicate concerns with placement of unaccompanied children. These factors, such as a youth being a pregnant or parenting teen, should be added to the list necessitating a discretionary home study.

* Ensure Flexibility to Respond to Newly Identified Needs. Children who are receiving PRS-only services, (those who generally do not get home studies), typically receive services for a shorter period of time 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 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 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.

* Limit Use of Sponsor Information to Prevent Trafficking Risk. Congress should encourage DHS leadership, through rulemaking or policy memoranda, to limit the ability of information obtained pursuant to the MOA to be used for enforcement purposes absent extenuating circumstances (such as those individuals who are national security threats or have felony convictions which present a public safety concern).

Conclusion

How we respond to the children arriving at our border is a test of our moral character. In the words of Pope Francis, we must “not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”6 As always, USCCB/MRS stands ready to offer our assistance to Congress, DHS, and HHS/ORR to strengthen protections for unaccompanied children and to help prevent and mitigate situations of human trafficking, abuse, and neglect.

Click here for a PDF of the testimony

1 Pope Francis, Address to Participants in the International Forum on Migration and Peace (February 2017), available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2017/february/documents/papa- francesco_20170221_forum-migrazioni-pace.html.
2 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.
3 GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE, UNACCOMPANIED ALIEN CHILDREN: ACTIONS NEEDED TO ENSURE CHILDREN RECEIVE REQUIRED CARE IN DHS CUSTODY 66 (JULY 2015), available at https://www.gao.gov/assets/680/671393.pdf (estimating that the average cost to the taxpayer to keep an unaccompanied child in an ORR shelter is $248 per day).
4 Identifying information changed to protect child’s confidentiality.
5 See UCCB/MRS et al., ORR and DHS Information-Sharing Agreement: The Unintended Consequences, https://justiceforimmigrants.org/2016site/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/MOA-Backgrounder-Final.pdf (last visited Aug. 10, 2018).
6 Pope Francis, 2017 World Day of Migrants and Refugees Message, supra note 2.
2018-09-11T14:00:52+00:00News|

USCCB Chairman of Committee on Migration Letter to Congress with Concerns on Two Immigration Bills Before Congress

June 18, 2018

Dear Representative,

I write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM) concerning the two pending immigration bills that may be brought to the House floor this week.

For over 18 years, the Catholic Church has urged Congress to put forth and pass a common sense and just legislative solution for Dreamers, young people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents. We believe that any such legislative solution must: (1) be bipartisan, (2) provide Dreamers with a path to citizenship, (3) be pro-family, (4) protect the vulnerable; and (5) be respectful of human dignity with regard to border security and enforcement.

While my brother bishops and I appreciate your good faith effort to find a legislative solution for Dreamers by bringing immigration measures before the full House of Representatives, these two bills contain a number of provisions that cause us serious concern. As the USCCB/COM has written regarding our opposition to H.R. 4760 in the past, I turn to the second, yet-to-be-numbered alternative immigration bill that also may soon be before you. As written, this bill contains several provisions that run contrary to our Catholic social teaching. Specifically, it would:

  • undermine asylum  protections  by  significantly  raising the  hurdle applicants face during  the  “Credible  Fear”  review;
  • lead to increases in child and family detention through the proposed changes to the Flores Settlement;
  • eliminate protection for unaccompanied minors through the proposed changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA);
  • includes part of the DACA-eligible population but does not include same population eligible in the USA Act and the Dream Act;
  • make sweeping cuts to family-based immigration; and
  • unilaterally implement a safe third country agreement without a bilateral or multilateral treaty or agreement.

Lastly, it is important to note that the bill would not end the practice of separating families at the U.S./Mexico border, which could be ended by the Administration at its discretion at any point. Instead, (as mentioned above) this bill would increase the number of children and families in detention, which is not acceptable.

While we truly want a legislative solution for Dreamers, we cannot, in good faith, endorse large structural changes to the immigration system that detrimentally impact families and the vulnerable, such as those that are contained in this legislation. The Catholic Church’s work in assisting these vulnerable migrants stems from the belief that every person is created in God’s image and should be treated with compassion and dignity.

We respectfully urge you to reject H.R. 4760.  With respect to the alternative immigration bill that has been put forward, we ask for timely consideration of our concerns mentioned above, particularly the cuts to family-based immigration, as well as the harmful changes to the asylum system and existing protections for unaccompanied children. Without such changes to these measures, we would be compelled to oppose it.

We ask for a truly bipartisan effort to achieve a legislative solution for Dreamers that will protect them, keep our borders safe, and not harm families or the vulnerable. We remain committed to working with Congress to find such a solution.

Wishing you God’s blessings in your work on these critical issues, I am

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez
Bishop of Austin
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration

Click here for a PDF of the Letter

2018-06-19T13:01:14+00:00News|

Written Testimony of Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin, Chairman, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration, Regarding The Prevention of Trafficking and Abuse of Unaccompanied Children For a Hearing of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration

My name is Bishop Joe Vásquez. I am the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Austin, Texas and the Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration. The Committee on Migration oversees the work of the Department of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) within the USCCB. On behalf of the USCCB/MRS, I would like to thank the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, as well as Subcommittee Chair Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ranking Member Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), for the opportunity to submit this written statement for the record.

The care of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America is of great importance to the Catholic Church. In this testimony, I highlight the need for existing protections for unaccompanied children to combat human trafficking and also to ensure safe placement and strong integration into communities. I also offer a few key recommendations for improved care of these children and for increased protection against trafficking and exploitation.

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

While the Catholic Church recognizes governments’ right to control their borders and enforce immigration laws, we also hold a strong pastoral interest in the welfare and humane treatment of unaccompanied immigrant children. The protection of immigrant children is an especially important issue for the Catholic Church, as one of Jesus’ first experiences as an infant was to flee for his life from King Herod with his family to Egypt. Indeed, Jesus, Himself, was a child migrant fleeing violence, and the Holy Family is the archetype of the refugee families we see today, both at our borders and around the world. The Holy Family faced the same difficult migration circumstance as thousands of children fleeing to the United States each year.

The Catholic Church in the United States has played a critical role in the care of unaccompanied children, and the USCCB/MRS has been a leader in the protection of and advocacy for this vulnerable population. Since 1994, the USCCB/MRS has operated the “Safe Passages” program. This program serves undocumented 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 small group home placements) to unaccompanied children in ORR custody, as well as family reunification services (pre-release placement screening and post-release social services for families). In fiscal year 2017, the USCCB/MRS Safe Passages program served 1,294 youth who arrived as unaccompanied children—1,042 through the family reunification program and 252 through the residential care programs.

Our work assisting these children is rooted in the belief that they, like all God’s children, were created in His image and have a unique and sacred dignity.

The Northern Triangle – A Refugee Crisis

We know from the extensive presence of the Catholic Church in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (the Northern Triangle of Central America) and from over three decades serving this population that these children are fleeing for their lives. Violence in the home and at the community and state level is a primary factor forcing children to leave the Northern Triangle. As a result, many of these children present extreme international protection concerns. Given their vulnerability, they deserve and need our protection and our compassion.

In our years of service, we have seen firsthand the human consequences of violence and impunity in the Northern Triangle. We urge you to look beyond statistics and rhetoric and see that these are children. Children such as:

  • Karen, a young teen from El Salvador who began to be tormented by the MS-13 gang after winning a beauty pageant in her small town. The gang started by trailing Karen and her younger sister on their way home from school. The situation quickly escalated, however, and the gang demanded $10,000 from Karen’s family, saying that they would murder both girls if the fee was not paid. The girls fled for their lives, unaccompanied and seeking protection in the U.S. Karen quickly learned English, excelled in her studies, and was granted asylum in 2017. She recently won a scholarship and looks forward to attending college and working towards her dream of becoming a pediatrician. “I want people to be proud of me, to see all I’m trying to do,” she explained. “People think we are bad people. . . We don’t come because we want to come; we come because of conflicts so we can survive. We want to make things better, not give problems.”1

 

  • Manuel and Lucas, 9- and 11-year-old brothers from Honduras. The boys’ father was a local police officer who was working to combat gang violence in the community. When he was murdered by gang members, his mother fled to the U.S. and left the boys with their grandmother. Unfortunately, the boys were also forced to flee when the gang found them and murdered their grandmother. Arriving to the U.S. unaccompanied, they were transferred to the custody of ORR and eventually reunited with their mother. USCCB/MRS provided the family with vital family reunification services – assisting with school enrollment, providing education on the immigration court process, linking the family to legal counsel, and connecting the boys with counseling services to address their past trauma. Manuel and Lucas ultimately won their asylum cases and are adjusting well to their new community. 2

The trauma and persecution these children faced in their home countries highlights the Northern Triangle governments’ inability to adequately protect children due to corrupt or inadequate law enforcement and legal systems, as well as limited social welfare and child protection infrastructure.

In a time when the immigration debate has become increasingly polarized, it is easy to focus on statistics and fears, rather than faces and stories. But as the stories above clearly illustrate, these children are refugees.

Preventing Persecution and Trafficking of Unaccompanied Children

Once an unaccompanied child arrives at our border, we have a moral obligation to ensure his or her safety and wellbeing. 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.”3 Unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, domestic servitude, and other exploitative situations – in part, like any child, due to their age and inherent desire to trust and please adults. In the case of children in a forced migration context, prior victimization in their home country or during their journey to the United States, debts incurred for smuggling fees, and their undocumented status are all characteristics that put them at heightened risk and make them easy prey for traffickers and others with ill intent.

Recognizing these unique vulnerabilities to trafficking and exploitation, Congress passed critical protections for unaccompanied children in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008. Under the TVPRA, transfer of apprehended unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries (e.g., Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) to ORR is required within 72 hours.4 These children are subsequently placed into immigration court proceedings. This automatic transfer, which has come under recent attack, is a vital safeguard to ensure that persecuted and trafficked children are afforded a meaningful chance at protection.

For children who are not afforded this automatic referral (i.e., children from Mexico and Canada), screening by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for trafficking and protection concerns is currently inadequate and leaves many children vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. In its 2015 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 95% of Mexican unaccompanied children from fiscal years 2009-2014 were returned to Mexico, despite frequent indicators of trafficking or fear of return.5 The GAO report also found that CBP often did not correctly apply trafficking indicators, did not routinely ask follow-up questions to rule out all trafficking concerns, and did not ask questions pertaining to the risk of trafficking upon return to Mexico.6

We greatly respect the work of CBP agents and recognize their contributions to defend our borders and make us safe. However, they are law enforcement officers – not trained asylum officers or child welfare experts. The protections codified in the TVPRA are needed to ensure that child trafficking is identified and addressed. Consequently, rolling back TVPRA protections would undoubtedly lead to increased numbers of children being returned to the hands of their traffickers and abusers.

Ensuring Safe Placements & Promoting Community Integration

Facilitating release of unaccompanied children to family or “sponsors” pending their immigration removal proceedings is a humane and fiscally-sound policy. In addition to the moral and humanitarian concerns, detention of children is incredibly costly and an unnecessary use of government resources.7 It is vital, however, to ensure that children are not released to unsafe situations, that families are supported and connected to community resources, and that they understand the need to appear for their immigration court proceedings.

Family reunification services promote safe placements and facilitate family and community integration after reunification. These services include screening of placements prior to the release of children to relatives or family friends pending their immigration proceedings (“home studies”), as well as support to families after unaccompanied children are released from ORR custody (“post-release services”). While home studies and post-release services are valuable tools, we believe them to be under-utilized. We commend ORR’s recent efforts to increase post-release services but note that all family reunification services should be expanded and provided to a much greater number of children.

The limited use of these services has resulted in children being released to situations of abuse, abandonment, neglect, and trafficking. These are youth like Juan,8 who was released without services to his half-uncle in Florida. Shortly after his reunification, Juan’s uncle withdrew him from school and sent him to work in the fields with his two cousins (who had not been in the care of ORR). This forced labor continued until Juan’s cousin was injured and brought to the Emergency Room, where the injury raised abuse concerns. Child Protective Services investigated the situation and removed the children from the home, placing the children in state custody. From our work, we know that Juan’s story is more common than we think. We cannot let this happen to children.

To ensure that child trafficking is identified, we look to robust protection measures. Family reunification services, providing a connection to a child welfare professional trained to identify and respond to any such indicators, are one such measure that put children at a decreased risk of trafficking and exploitation. Additionally, with these short-term case management services and monitoring by child welfare professionals, it is more likely that children will appear at their immigration proceedings, enroll in school, and integrate into their communities — mitigating risk for future entry into the public child welfare system.

We must ensure that all children – regardless of their immigration status – are offered safety, support, and care in the United States.

Recommendations

  1. Address Root Causes of Migration. Congress should ensure robust appropriation of funds to address the root causes of forced migration from Northern Triangle countries. Such funding should support the efforts of Northern Triangle countries to strengthen their humanitarian and child protection responses, to include developing and improving education and child welfare systems, increasing opportunities for youth development, and providing safe spaces and alternatives to gang entry and migration. An example of programming that achieves these goals is the Catholic Relief Services “YouthBuilders” initiatives in Honduras and El Salvador. Government assistance must not solely be focused on enforcement but on strengthening protection systems and communities. We must address these issues to help ensure that children are not forced to make the dangerous journey north.
  2. Maintain Existing Protections for Children. In order to continue to fight human trafficking, which Pope Francis has rightly deemed “a crime against humanity,” we must safeguard our existing anti-trafficking protections. The TVPRA, including the automatic referral system for children from non-contiguous countries, is vital to ensuring that unaccompanied children are not returned to persecution or trafficking. Proposals to undermine or eliminate these existing safeguards are inhumane, run counter to basic child protection principles, and should be firmly rejected.
  3. Ensure Safe Placements and Facilitate Community Integration. In accordance with domestic child welfare best practices, Congress should urge ORR to increase the number unaccompanied children and families receiving family reunification services. While we were pleased to see the rates of post-release services improve slightly last fiscal year, ORR still provides family reunification services for less than thirty-two percent of children released from its care (with only seven percent of these children receiving home studies). Expanded family reunification services would increase protection for these children and allow for them to be linked to local resources, educated on immigration court processes and requirements, and also provide monitoring of the child’s safety and well-being, promoting the overall safety of our communities. We note that such programming should focus on strengthening the family to best promote long-term placement stability and integration.
  4. Support Safe Repatriation. Congress should provide funding to ensure that repatriation of unaccompanied children to the Northern Triangle, when appropriate, is accomplished safely. It is recommended that the U.S. government work with governments and non-governmental organizations in the region to provide repatriation and re-integration programs. Such programs will ensure that children are returned safely to appropriate caregivers and provided with follow-up services to help them reintegrate into their communities – with the goal of preventing re-migration.

Conclusion

How we respond to the children arriving at our border is a test of our moral character. In the words of Pope Francis, we must “not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”

We urge you to reject proposals and legislation that are rooted in fear – that seek to treat unaccompanied children not as children seeking protection, but as threats and criminals. As always, USCCB/MRS stands ready to offer our assistance to Congress and ORR to strengthen protections for unaccompanied children to prevent and mitigate situations of human trafficking, exploitation, abuse, and neglect.

 

To View a PDF of this testimony, click here

1)Alice Kenny, Beauty Queen Targeted by MS-13, CATHOLIC CHARITIES ARCHDIOCESE OF NEW YORK (Jan. 17,2018), https://catholiccharitiesny.org/blog/beauty-queen-targeted-ms-13-gang.
2) Identifying information changed to protect client confidentiality.
3) 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.
4)Trafficking and Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, § 235 (2008).
 5)See GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE, UNACCOMPANIED ALIEN CHILDREN: ACTIONS NEEDED TO ENSURE CHILDREN RECEIVE REQUIRED CARE IN DHS CUSTODY 24, 27-36 (JULY 2015), available at https://www.gao.gov/assets/680/671393.pdf.
6)Id
7)Id at 66 (estimating that the average cost to the taxpayer to keep an unaccompanied child in an ORR shelter is $248 per day).
8)Identifying information changed to protect client confidentiality.
2018-05-22T12:05:13+00:00News|

USCCB Letter to DHS Regarding Extension of TPS Designation for Honduras

The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen

Secretary

Department of Homeland Security

Washington, DC 20528

VIA EMAIL AND IN-PERSON

 

RE: Extension of TPS Designation for Honduras

Dear Secretary Nielsen,

I write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) to urge you to extend the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation of Honduras for 18 months. As you know, while the current TPS designation extends through July 5, 2018, for Honduras,[1]  pursuant to statutory requirements,[2] a decision to extend or terminate TPS for the country must be made by May 4, 2018. From our delegation trip to the region in Fall 2017, as well as our continued presence and work in the region and with affected communities in the U.S., we know firsthand that Honduras is not currently able to adequately handle the return of their nationals who have TPS.

The Catholic Church’s deep concern for individuals from these countries is rooted in our experience as an immigrant church and in Catholic Social Teaching. Many of the dioceses in the United States have direct relationships of pastoral care and outreach with Hondurans. And, we believe that God has called on us, as part of our life of faith, to care for the foreigner and the marginalized: “For the Lord, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing. So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.”[3]

Bishop David O’Connell of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Bishop Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin led the USCCB/MRS Fall 2017 delegation trip to Honduras and El Salvador to express solidarity with those impacted by the imminent decisions and to assess the countries’ abilities to adequately accept and integrate individuals should TPS be terminated. As discussed in the trip report, Temporary Protected Status: A Vital Piece of the Central American Protection and Prosperity Puzzle

the delegation found an extension of TPS for both countries crucial for humanitarian, regional security, and economic stability reasons. Regarding Honduras, the delegation found that the country lacks the capacity to adequately receive, protect, and welcome TPS returnees at this time. Specifically, the delegation found that:

  • Entire families, not just children, currently face targeted violence in Honduras;
  • Large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Honduras (~174,000) continue to be displaced, illustrating already existing safety issues and the growing humanitarian protection challenges in the country; and
  • The Honduran government does not have the current capacity to adequately handle the return of nationals with TPS because it lacks knowledge of the impacted population and lacks an adequate reception, protection, and integration system for the already large numbers of IDPs and returnees (almost 70,000 in 2016).

In addition to the findings in the report, it is important to note that the disputed nature of the December 2017 presidential election in Honduras has compounded the society-wide instability of the country and further inhibits the Honduran government’s ability to accept returned nationals. The events around the presidential election diverted valuable resources away from improving the existing national protection and repatriation infrastructure. As a result, the capacity to reintegrate Honduran nationals remains very limited. Given this precarious state, the influx of deportees has the potential of further debilitating Honduras’ human security, economy, and civil society; thus, hurting the efficacy of its cooperation with the United States.

Terminating TPS at this time would be inhumane and untenable. Given the current country conditions, Honduras is in no position to accommodate the return of an estimated 57,000 nationals who have received TPS from the United States. Doing so would likely destabilize this key strategic, regional partner and potentially bring harm to those returned. In addition, terminating TPS would needlessly add large numbers of Hondurans to the undocumented population in the U.S., lead to family separation, and unnecessarily cause the Department of Homeland Security to expend resources on individuals who are already registered with our government and whose safe return is forestalled by dire humanitarian conditions.

Based on the above facts and further analysis in our trip report, we urge you to extend the TPS designation for Honduras, pursuant to Section 244(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act,[1] until individuals’ return and reintegration to the country can be safely accomplished. This will allow Hondurans to continue to legally work, contribute to U.S. communities in an authorized capacity, and maintain safe, stable lives, and human dignity for their families, many of which include U.S. citizens. We ask you to show compassion and patience as Honduras continues to improve its citizen security and humanitarian capacity for reception, protection, and integration.

We appreciate your consideration of this request. The Catholic Church stands ready to support measures to protect the wellbeing and dignity of Honduran families as the country continues the path to reform, addressing citizen security and building protection infrastructure.

Respectfully Submitted,

William Canny, Executive Director

Click Here for a PDF Version of the Letter

[1] 8 U.S.C. § 1254a(b).
[1] Extension of the Designation of Honduras for Temporary Protected Status, 82 Fed. Reg. 59,630 (December 15, 2017), available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/12/15/2017-27140/extension-of-the-designation-of-honduras-for-temporary-protected-status
[2] 8 U.S.C. § 1254a(b).
[3] Deut. 10:17-19, available at http://www.usccb.org/bible/deuteronomy/10
[4] USCCB/MRS, Temporary Protected Status: A Vital Piece of the Central American Protection and Prosperity Puzzle (October 2017), available at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/fact-finding-mission-reports/upload/el-salvador-honduras-report-20171016.pdf.
[5] 8 U.S.C. § 1254a(b).
2018-05-02T15:28:43+00:00News|

USCCB Letter to DHS on Termination of the Central American Minor (CAM) Program

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.

Sincerely,
William Canny
Executive Director

 

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.
2018-04-18T13:59:07+00:00News|

U.S. Catholic Bishops of U.S./Mexico Border Respond to U.S. National Guard Deployment

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

 

Click here to read the Statement in Spanish

2018-04-09T16:23:33+00:00News|

Letter to Secretary Nielsen on Refugee Resettlement

March 26, 2018

Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen Secretary of Homeland Security Department of Homeland Security

Dear Secretary Nielsen,

I write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration to urge the Administration to honor this nation’s historically bipartisan commitment to resettling refugees. As you know, the United States has had an average admissions ceiling of over 95,000 refugees each year since the modern U.S. refugee admissions program was established by the Refugee Act of 1980. We are deeply concerned about both the historically low target that the Administration has set for refugee admissions for Fiscal Year 2018, as well as by the extraordinarily low number of refugees that the United States is on pace to resettle during the current fiscal year. We respectfully ask for a meeting with you to discuss this urgent matter.

The number of refugees that are scheduled to be resettled by the United States has plummeted in the last year. For FY 2018, a target of only 45,000 refugee admissions was set, which is the lowest target in the history of the U.S. refugee resettlement admissions program. Moreover, as of March 16, 2018, nearly the halfway point of FY18, the U.S. has resettled only 9,616 refugees. With these numbers, the United States is on pace to resettle fewer than 20,000 refugees in FY 2018 – a number which is only 25% percent of the number of refugees who arrived just two years before in fiscal year 2016.

The current level of refugee arrivals leaves thousands of vulnerable people in harm’s way and searching for protection. This includes 87 Iranian Christians and other persecuted religious minorities from Iran who were recently denied admittance to the United States. Similarly situated Iranians have been granted admission to the United States at a 99% rate in past years. Further, many of the refugees who are being excluded from arriving and resettling in the United States are among the estimated 5% who cannot remain in refugee host countries that neighbor the home countries they fled. Most often they are at-risk women and children who are too vulnerable to remain in the region and/or in situations too dangerous for them to wait in the host country until the conflict at home has ended. Others are often part of a religious or ethnic group not welcome by the host country. These trends signify an abdication of our nation’s leadership in humanitarian protection through resettlement and in championing international religious freedom.

For 37 years, the U.S. has been a world leader in welcoming and resettling refugees, and the U.S. Catholic Church has been a committed partner in this work. As Christians, our concern for refugees is  integral to our life of faith. The Catholic Church believes that every person is created in God’s image. In the Old Testament, God calls upon his people to care for the newcomers because of their own experience as newcomers: “So, you, too, should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). In his own life and work, Jesus identified himself with newcomers and with other marginalized persons in a special way: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt. 25:35). Jews, Christians, including many Catholics, and other people of faith continue to be persecuted for their religion, race, ethnicity, political opinion or associations.
In this spirit, we urge the Administration to renew a bipartisan commitment to resettlement for refugees, including religious minorities. More specifically, we request: (1) robust and transparent processing by the Department of Homeland Security to ensure greater processing of refugees for resettlement for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2018; and (2) admittance of at least 45,000 refugees this year and a Presidential Determination of 75,000 refugees next year. Lastly, we again renew our request for a meeting with you to discuss how to address the current state of refugee processing.

Sincerely,

Most Reverend Joe S. Vasquez Chair, USCCB Committee on Migration

cc: Speaker Paul Ryan;Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi;  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell;  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer; White House Chief of Staff John Kelly

Click for pdf of this letter

2018-03-27T11:57:41+00:00News|