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House Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission

On Wednesday, November 1st, Ashley Feasley, MRS/USCCB Director of Policy gave Testimony in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Below is the written testimony given to the Committee.

 

Hearing on:

Human Rights and Humanitarian Challenges in Central America

November 1, 2017

1:00PM- 2:30PM

2255 Rayburn House Office Building

 

Statement of Ashley Feasley

Director of Policy and Public Affairs,

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

 

Thank you to Co-Chairmen Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and James McGovern (D-MA) and members of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for the opportunity to submit this written testimony  and to testify regarding the issue of forced displacement and existing migrant protection system capacity within Central America.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) welcomes this important discussion. We ask to include our recent report Temporary Protected Status: A Vital Piece of the Central American Protection and Prosperity Puzzle into the record.

  1. Introduction

The Catholic Church has a long history of solidarity, pastoral care, community outreach, service, and advocacy related to people on the move, particularly immigrants and refugees. Migration and Refugee Services of the USCCB (USCCB/MRS) is the largest U.S. refugee resettlement agency, welcoming and helping to integrate refugees, regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity, or religion. Working in partnership with the U.S. government, state and local governments, and local communities, it has resettled over one million of the three million refugees who have come to our country since 1975. It also serves as a national leader in caring for unaccompanied refugee and migrant children and victims of human trafficking. USCCB/MRS works through 80 Catholic Dioceses and Archdioceses and their Catholic Charities agencies in some 100 offices and sub-offices in 37 states across the country to welcome and serve refugees, unaccompanied alien children, and victims of human trafficking.

USCCB/MRS works with a wide array of secular and Catholic partners in Central America, most notably Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the Scalabrinian Missionary Sisters in Honduras and the respective Bishops Conferences in El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. CRS, the international relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic community, works in 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. CRS works with the Catholic Church and local civil society partners to address the root causes of poverty, create more peaceful and just societies, help communities protect the environment, and prepare for and respond to natural disaster. CRS’ development programs in Latin America and the Caribbean focus on water smart agriculture to help farm families cope with changing weather conditions and to build resilient farming systems; youth development to address the high rates of violence and the lack of job opportunity; and education to promote child development and food security across the region. CRS’ humanitarian work meets the critical, immediate needs to plan for and respond to frequent natural disasters. YouthBuilders, CRS’ flagship youth program, has helped more than 7,000 young people in Central America build vocational and life skills so they can return to school, find a job, or start a small business.  The Scalabrinian Missionary Sisters Association have been providing pastoral and humanitarian care to migrants in Honduras since 1991. In their missionary-apostolic work they co-ordinate at a national and archdiocesan level the Pastoral Care of Human Mobility in the Church, in society and in public and international institutions. They also work in the Centro de Atención a Mirgrantes Deportados and in Tegucigalpa airport. The Pastoral Care for Human Mobility also works in San Pedro Sula airport and in the Casa del Migrante un Ocotepeque, at the frontier with Guatemala. In these centers, the Scalabrinian sisters promote a dignified reception of migrants, helping them to defend their rights, and assist in their social and occupational process of reintegration.

The Catholic Church’s solidarity and service related to migrants stems from the belief that every human being is created in God’s image, and from the Church’s experience this is often forgotten in the cases of migrants and refugees who are frequently marginalized and mistreated. Pope Pius XII reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s commitment to care for pilgrims, aliens, exiles, refugees, and migrants of every kind, affirming that all peoples have the right to conditions worthy of human life and, if these conditions are not present, the right to migrate.[1] Meanwhile, we advocate to address the root causes for such poor conditions while also protecting those forced to migrate. In our joint pastoral letter, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, A Pastoral Letter Concerning Migration,” January 23, 2003, the U.S. and Mexican Catholic bishops call for nations to work toward a “globalization of solidarity.” In that document we affirm that “Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection. Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community.” No. 99.  We likewise stated that “because of their heightened vulnerability, unaccompanied minors require special consideration and care.” No. 82. And we state that refugees should “have access to appropriate due process protections consistent with international law.” No. 99. Also, we stated that “[b]ecause of their heightened vulnerability, unaccompanied minors require special consideration and care.” No. 82. Pope Francis provides recent guidance regarding such situations, saying, “Collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees are not suitable solutions, particularly where people are returned to countries which cannot guarantee respect for human dignity and fundamental rights.”[2]

  1. Background

In August 2017, an USCCB/MRS delegation travelled to El Salvador and Honduras to express solidarity with our Central American brothers and sisters to assess the potential human security issues for them, and to assess the capacity of both of their nations to adequately return and integrate them if certain immigration programs in the United States, such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) are not renewed.  Most Reverend David O’Connell, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, California and member of the USCCB Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM) led the delegation in Honduras.  Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin, Texas and Chairman of the Committee on Migration, joined the delegation in El Salvador.

The delegation first visited Honduras to speak with U.S. and Honduran government officials, Catholic leaders, Catholic service providers, civil society and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  Delegation members had the opportunity to speak with families and youth who had recent migration experiences and perspectives on current repatriation and integration services.  The delegation subsequently travelled to El Salvador to collect information and assess the local conditions, including the capacity for the nation to reabsorb large numbers of returned nationals.  In addition, delegation members heard updates on vulnerable mobile populations, the current situation of violence in communities, and related forced displacement.

Upon return, USCCB/MRS staff issued a report, Temporary Protected Status: A Vital Piece of the Central American Protection and Prosperity Puzzle which evaluated the conditions on the ground in both countries and reviewed current capacity to accept and reintegrate returned nationals. Additionally, the report addressed the importance of TPS to ongoing security and protection efforts.

  • Findings

The delegation found incremental but important progress in both El Salvador and Honduras[3] in relation to improvements in protection systems but overall found that violence targeted against families and internal forced migration and large internal displaced populations proved to be ongoing obstacles to respective governments’ capacity to provide protection and respond to large scale return of nationals and other humanitarian problems.

  1. Internal Displacement in Honduras and El Salvador

The delegation learned of the substantial internally displaced persons (IDPs) populations that exist in Honduras and El Salvador, and the difficulties both countries are having providing care for them.  In the case of El Salvador, there is the additional problem of even addressing and acknowledging the issue publicly, as displacement was an issue during the civil war.  Given the pervasiveness of violence leading to internal displacement in both countries,[4] and the slow progress to address both the root causes and the consequently growing humanitarian challenges, both governments will face severe obstacles to integrating returning populations from the United States and ensuring that they do not add to the growing IDP population.  Such IDP growth would not only undermine the security efforts to quell violence in both countries but would likely also contribute to forced re-migration of TPS returnees and others back to the United States.

The delegation visited Catholic and other civil society NGO service organizations who serve people affected by violence and forced displacement.  Despite their best efforts, all noted the limited capacity to care for IDPs in both countries.  In the context of caring for those physically displaced within the country, the organizations interviewed discussed similar stories of attempting to attend to people who frequently leave their homes against their will to save their own and their families’ lives.  Many families then must move to another place where they frequently find themselves living in inadequate conditions and suffering deterioration in their family life.  Another issue related to addressing the internally displaced is the lack of existing governmental infrastructure to care for the IDP population.  As more families are fleeing from their neighborhoods and becoming displaced, they are effectively abandoning established and regularized lives.  They are leaving behind their family, social networks, belongings, property and livelihoods.  They face difficulties reintegrating into the labor market, accessing health services and education, and have difficulty obtaining personal documents such as birth certificates, identity cards, passports, educational and health records.

UNHCR estimates that Honduras has 174,000 internally displaced people.[5]  A recent study estimates that from 2004 – 2014, approximately 41,000 households within 20 municipalities were internally displaced because of violence or insecurity.[6]  Displacement in Honduras does not occur from every community across the country, but instead takes place from certain communities and municipalities.[7]

The situation in El Salvador remains more complex and hidden.  Estimates range from 220,000 IDPs[8] up to roughly 400,000.[9]  With regard to data collection on IDPs, most data are collected by NGOs or international organizations, since there is no government system in place to collect information on IDPs.  The Salvadoran government has not yet publicly acknowledged the full extent of the phenomenon of internal displacement, particularly with respect to those who have been displaced due to violence.  As a result, there is currently no national strategy or legislative or policy framework in place to comprehensively monitor, address, or respond to internal displacement in El Salvador when such displacement is related to violence or other factors.[10]

While there is initial progress in Honduras to identify and evaluate the number of IDPs and their needs, neither Honduras nor El Salvador has stopped the forced displacement of its current residents.  They have neither established programs to meet their immediate humanitarian and protection needs nor assured that their internal displacement will not lead to international flight.  Adding additional returnees, such as former TPS recipients, into this dynamic would only lead to more forced displacement, internal instability of both countries, and increased irregular migration back to the United States.

  1. Targeted Violence against Family Units

In both countries, the delegation consistently heard that while children were still very vulnerable and experienced extreme protection issues, more whole family units were being targeted and more rural areas were experiencing exploitation due to gang violence and drug trafficking operations.[11]

The Church in both 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.[12]”  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.[13]

In many cases, an act of violence directed at a person involves his or her whole family group and breaks down the social fabric of communities, as people are forced to flee with their families. There have been cases where whole communities are targeted and forced from their homes after threats from criminal groups.  This targeting of entire families, and the corresponding need for protection of entire families, is corroborated by what the delegation heard from service providers in both Honduras and El Salvador.  In Honduras, both Casa Alianza and Pastoral Care for Migrants, a Catholic collaborative effort led by Scalabrinians in Honduras, reported an increase in families arriving at shelters seeking care.  Sister Lidia Mara Silva de Souza, National Coordinator of the Pastoral Care for Migrants, noted many more “total family migration” cases arriving for services and protection.[14]  She described this as a situation where one person is persecuted by gangs, but as a result, the whole family often needs to leave to protect the family.  Families in shelters had begun to be targeted when youth had inadvertently disclosed the new location of the family through social media, such as Facebook, causing the need for some families to move yet again in search of protection.  In these cases, internal relocation within Honduras is preferred rather than leaving the country, if safe options are available, but such options were very limited and uncertain. [15]

 

  1. Recommendations

Based on the observations and findings collected during the visit, the delegation provides the following recommendations to help ensure improved governmental protection and humanitarian capacity.

  1. Honduras and El Salvador need to improve their respective in-country legal work opportunities for their youthful populations.

Gang-prevention programs that have job skill component programming, such as Catholic Relief Services Youth Builders programs will help to provide Honduran and Salvadoran nationals with more economic security and help further develop the stability of the region. Job opportunities need to be reflective of young population’s skill level.

  1. Honduras needs to develop stronger programming to address protection and integration services for internally displaced people and for returnees who have been outside of Honduras for many years.

Augmenting existing government protection mechanisms is vital to prevent onward migration and re-migration in the case of Honduran nationals who have been internally displaced or returned.  Such program development could also help enable Honduras to adequately handle the return of TPS recipients in the future.  Services such as language skills and cultural orientation will help ensure that such a long departed and newly returned population will better acclimate and will not face remigration or forced displacement.

  1. El Salvador should consider addressing the issue of internal displacement of people due to generalized violence.

El Salvador should work with UNHCR to engage in an internal displacement profiling study to better understand and respond to the scope and challenges of IDPs whose numbers have greatly increased in the past five years. Special attention and formal acknowledgment should be given to those who have been displaced due to community violence or conflict.

 

  1. El Salvador and Honduras should address causes of forced displacement and migration, working in collaboration with the United States, the international community, and civil society.

Honduras is already engaging UNHCR and other international organizations in this effort, but meaningful protection plans need to be further created and implemented.  El Salvador needs more robust engagement and programming both with UNHCR and also with the larger NGO and international donor community.

 

  1. Conclusion

Thank you for the opportunity to share these findings and observations. We welcome the opportunity to speak more about the important human rights promotion and protection efforts that are occurring in Central America with respect to care and well-being to refugees and immigrants.

For the Full Testimony, Click Here

 

[1] Pope Pius XII, Exsul Familia (On the Spiritual Care of Migrants), September, 1952.

[2] Message of his Holiness Pope Francis for the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees referring to Statement of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the 103rd Session of the Council of the IOM, 26 November 2013.

[3] See Temporary Protected Status: A Vital Piece of the Central American Protection and Prosperity Puzzle, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Office of Migration and Refugee Services, October 16, 2017 available at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/fact-finding-mission-reports/upload/el-salvador-honduras-report-20171016.pdf  For discussion of Honduran government protection mechanisms see pages 2-4; for discussion of Salvadoran government protection mechanisms see pages 4-5.

[4] Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), 2016 Report on the Grid: Global internal displacement in 2016, cites the number of IDPs in El Salvador to be 220,000 http://internal-displacement.org/global-report/grid2017/pdfs/2017-GRID-el-salvador-spotlight.pdf

[5] UNHCR Honduras Fact Sheet, March 2017, available at http://reporting.unhcr.org/sites/default/files/UNHCR%20Honduras%20Fact%20Sheet%20-%20March%202017.pdf

[6] Interinstitutional Commission for Protection of Displaced People Due to Violence, Characterization of Internal Displacement in Honduras, (2015) at 12, available at http://sedis.gob.hn/sites/default/files/desplazamiento/Caract.Desplazam.Interno_ENG.pdf

[7] See Temporary Protected Status: A Vital Piece of the Central American Protection and Prosperity Puzzle, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Office of Migration and Refugee Services, October 16, 2017 available at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/fact-finding-mission-reports/upload/el-salvador-honduras-report-20171016.pdf  At For more discussion of the Honduran IDP situation see pages 7-8.

[8] Id.

[9] Interview with Noah Bullock, Executive Director, Cristosal, 8.17.17, notes on file with author.

[10] See Temporary Protected Status: A Vital Piece of the Central American Protection and Prosperity Puzzle, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Office of Migration and Refugee Services, October 16, 2017 available at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/fact-finding-mission-reports/upload/el-salvador-honduras-report-20171016.pdf  For more discussion of the Salvadoran IDP situation, see pages 8-9.

[11] See Delegation Notes, 8.17.17 notes on file with author.

[12] 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, March 24, 2016 at 18.

[13] Id., at page 15.

[14] Meeting with Sister Lidia Mara Silva de Souza, National Coordinator, Pastoral Care for Migrants in Honduras, 8.15.17 notes on file with author.

[15]See Temporary Protected Status: A Vital Piece of the Central American Protection and Prosperity Puzzle, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Office of Migration and Refugee Services, October 16, 2017 available at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/fact-finding-mission-reports/upload/el-salvador-honduras-report-20171016.pdf  For more information on targeted family violence, see pages 6-7.

2017-11-01T09:36:29+00:00 News|

Catholic Partner Letter to DHS Requesting Extension of Temporary Protected Status

The Honorable Elaine Duke

Acting Secretary

Department of Homeland Security

Washington, DC 20528

 

RE: Extension of TPS Designation for Honduras and El Salvador

Dear Secretary Duke,

We, the undersigned, write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS), Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), and Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) to urge you to extend the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation of Honduras and El Salvador for 18 months. As you know, while the current TPS designation extends through January 5, 2018 for Honduras[1] and through March 9, 2018 for El Salvador,[2] pursuant to statutory requirements,[3] a decision to extend or terminate TPS for the countries must be made by November 6, 2017 and January 8, 2018, respectively. From our recent delegation trip to the region on August 13-19, 2017, our presence and work in the region and with affected communities in the U.S., we know firsthand that these countries are not currently in a position to adequately handle the return of their nationals who currently 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 Salvadorans. 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.”[4]

Bishop David O’Connell of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Bishop Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin led the USCCB’s August 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 if TPS is terminated. As discussed in the trip report, Temporary Protected Status: A Vital Piece of the Central American Protection and Prosperity Puzzle,[5] an extension of TPS for both countries is crucial for humanitarian, regional security, and economic stability reasons.  Honduras and El Salvador lack 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 the countries;
  • Large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Honduras (~174,000) and El Salvador (~220,000 – 400,000) continue to be displaced, illustrating already existing safety issues and the growing humanitarian protection challenges in both countries;
  • The Honduran government does not have the capacity at this time 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); and
  • Similarly, the Salvadoran government does not currently have the capacity to adequately handle the return of its TPS population as evidenced by its failure to address citizen safety and humanitarian concerns related to its large-scale internal displacement, as well as due to its lack of an adequate reception, protection, and integration system for IDPs and annual returnees (52,560 in 2016).

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 Hondurans who have received TPS from the United States; nor is El Salvador in any position to accommodate the return of roughly 200,000  Salvadorans. Doing so in either case would likely destabilize these key strategic, regional partners and potentially bring harm to those returned. In addition, terminating TPS would needlessly add large numbers of Hondurans and Salvadorans 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 and El Salvador, pursuant to Section 244(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act,[6] until individuals’ return and reintegration to the two countries can be safely accomplished. This will allow Hondurans and Salvadorans 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 and El Salvador continue to improve their 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 well-being and dignity of Honduran and Salvadoran families as the two countries are on the path to reform, addressing citizen security and building protection infrastructure.

Respectfully submitted,

Most Rev. Joe S. Vásquez, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration

Sean Callahan, President/CEO, Catholic Relief Services

Jeanne M. Atkinson, Esq., Executive Director, Catholic Legal Immigration, Network Inc. (CLINIC)

Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, President and CEO, Catholic Charities USA

Click here for a PDF Version of the letter

[1] Extension of the Designation of Honduras for Temporary Protected Status, 81 Fed. Reg. 30,331 (May 16, 2016).
[2] Extension of the Designation of El Salvador for Temporary Protected Status, 81 Fed. Reg. 44,645 (July 8, 2016).
[3] 8 U.S.C. § 1254a(b).
[4] Deut. 10:17-19, available at . http://www.usccb.org/bible/deuteronomy/10
[5] 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.
[6] 8 U.S.C. § 1254a(b).

 

2017-10-30T21:45:03+00:00 News|

USCCB Migration And Refugee Services Release Report Recommending Extension Of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) For El Salvador And Honduras

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS), released its report today, entitled Temporary Protected Status: A Vital Piece of the Central American Protection and Prosperity Puzzle recommending the U.S. government extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvador and Honduras.

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, in a letter of introduction of the report states: “As this report indicates, there is ample evidence to suggest that current TPS recipients from Honduras and El Salvador cannot return safely to their home country at this time.”

A delegation from MRS/USCCB traveled to Honduras and El Salvador, from August 13 to 19, 2017, to examine conditions in both countries regarding Honduras and El Salvador’s ability to adequately receive and integrate the possible return of existing TPS recipients. USCCB/MRS Committee Member, Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell of Los Angeles, California, led the delegation and was accompanied by MRS staff from Children’s Services, Policy and Public Affairs, and the National Collections offices.

Currently, El Salvador and Honduras have Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from the U.S. government for certain nationals living in the United States, and the review of TPS is shortly to be re-evaluated by the U.S. government. It is estimated that there are approximately 200,000 current TPS recipients from El Salvador and 57,000 TPS recipients from Honduras living in the United States. TPS recipients living in the United States are parents to over 270,000 U.S. citizen children and are very integrated into American daily life.

Bishop Vásquez states in his introductory letter: “As you read this report, I urge you to keep the people of El Salvador and Honduras, including TPS recipients, in your thoughts and prayers. I encourage you to engage the Administration in requesting a TPS extension for El Salvador and Honduras . . . and to reach out to your elected Congressional leaders to request they support a legislative solution for TPS recipients who have been in the United States for many years.”

Resources and information about Temporary Protected Status and the report are available on the Justice for Immigrants website www.justiceforimmigrants.org. The information includes a backgrounder on the temporary protected status and a toolkit for Catholic leaders that offers ideas on how to show their support and solidarity with TPS recipients.

The full text of the report can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/fact-finding-mission-reports/upload/el-salvador-honduras-report-20171016.pdf.

2017-10-19T09:34:10+00:00 News|

Joint Letter Urging DACA Renewal extension deadlines

September 14, 2017

Elaine Duke

Acting Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. 20528

 

Dear Acting Secretary Duke:

We write on behalf of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., (CLINIC), Catholic Charities USA and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) to highlight the needs of certain Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. In light of the terrible devastation wrought by these hurricanes, we urge you to provide impacted youth applying for DACA renewals with an extension of the filing deadline and an opportunity to qualify for fee waivers.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities USA have long supported DACA youth and have worked through the national Catholic Charities ministry to assist eligible young people file their applications and renewals. CLINIC’s network of over 300 legal services providers have assisted tens of thousands of DACA applicants. Since 2012, we have done this work in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, promoting public engagement and education on DACA and also helping to prevent incidents of notario fraud. This work has been rooted in our faith. As Catholics, we believe that the dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected.

With some of the largest populations of DACA youth living in Texas and Florida, we know that these individuals were among those whose lives were upended by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. These hurricanes, which brought with them torrential rainfall and winds over 130mph, wrought heartbreaking devastation upon Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina. Initial estimates suggest that the storms caused $150 to $200 billion worth of damage to homes, furnishings, vehicles, real estate, and public infrastructure. USCCB, Catholic Charities USA and local Catholic Charities agencies have been working heroically to raise resources, build response teams and assist the impacted communities. However, it will likely take months, if not years, to rebuild and replace what was lost.

In the September 5, 2017 memorandum on the rescission of the 2012 DACA program, the Administration determined that current DACA recipients whose status is set to expire between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 may apply for a two-year renewal of DACA. The filing deadline for such applications was set for October 5, 2017. In light of the substantial devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, however, we request a three-month extension of the filing deadline for renewal -eligible DACA youth living in areas impacted by the hurricanes. These young people were among those evacuated and among those who returned to find their homes flooded and their personal belongings destroyed. Like many others, the current focus for these DACA youth is – as it should be – on restoring basic stability to their lives. As such, a short filing extension is warranted and ensures that they will not be unduly disadvantaged.

Additionally, we request that you provide the ability for impacted DACA youth to apply for fee waivers for their renewal applications. The economic toll of the hurricanes was massive; for many, their savings will need to be spent rebuilding homes and replacing basic necessities. DACA youth who do not have the means to pay $495 filing fee due to the hurricane however, are not less deserving of the opportunity to renew their status and we request you evaluate fee waivers in certain demonstrable hurricane devastation-related situations.

In the wake of great tragedy, we must come together as a nation to support all those whose lives have been upended. We respectfully ask for a short extension of the renewal filing deadline and limited fee waiver opportunities for DACA youth impacted by the hurricanes. We strongly believe that doing so would be both the humane and the just course of action. We appreciate your consideration of our requests and would welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have or meet with you on these and other issues related to DACA.

Sincerely,

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

Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, President and CEO, Catholic Charities USA

Jeanne M. Atkinson, Esq., Executive Director, Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC)

Click here for a PDF version of the letter

2017-09-14T16:19:54+00:00 News|

USCCB/MRS Letter to Congress in Opposition of H.R. 3697

Dear Representative:

I write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM) to express our serious concern regarding H.R. 3697, the “Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act,” which is being considered by the full House for a vote this Wednesday, September 13, 2017. We urge you to reject H.R. 3697 as it is a very broad bill that could contribute to victims of criminal gangs facing detention and being barred from seeking protection in the U.S.

The Catholic Church has significant interest in the protection of vulnerable immigrants and asylum seekers. The Catholic Church’s work in assisting immigrants stems from the belief that every person is created in God’s image and should be treated with dignity and compassion. While the Catholic Church recognizes governments’ sovereign right to control their borders, we believe this right should be balanced with the right of immigrants to access safety and due process. Jesus himself was a migrant, and the Holy Family, a migrant family fleeing persecution from King Herod.  The USCCB works to fulfill the teachings of the Church on migration through our work providing resettlement services to refugees, services to unaccompanied immigrant children, and case management services to human trafficking victims in the United States.

Violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala (the Northern Triangle of Central America) remains the primary force driving citizens to flee and seek protection. We have seen firsthand from our work with unaccompanied children and their families the increasing threat posed by gangs and forcible gang recruitment in the Northern Triangle. Moreover, the United Nations’ refugee-protection agency (UNHCR) found that the majority of children fleeing the Northern Triangle “were forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection.” Alarmingly, however, H.R. 3697, would deny critical protection to many of these children and their families.

H.R. 3697 establishes both an expansive definition of “criminal gang” and a low threshold for association with such a group. The bill allows those whom the government merely has “reason to believe” have ever been gang members or those who have participated in any activities of a designated group as inadmissible, deportable and subject to mandatory detention. Additionally, because of such a perceived “association” by the government, these individuals would be unable to access several vital forms of legal relief, including asylum, Temporary Protected Status, and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.

Given these severe consequences, we are particularly concerned that H.R. 3697 provides no exemption for children or other individuals who were victims of gangs and or individuals who were forced to engage in gang-related activities under duress. We fear that under H.R. 3697 there will be victimized children who will be considered “associated” with criminal gangs. This concern is reinforced by the stories of the children we serve daily. They are children like Mariana[1] who was 16 when the local gang began to target and harass her in her home country of El Salvador. Mariana lived in constant fear after the gang began to threaten her and her family, ultimately forcing her to smuggle a package of drugs to another neighborhood in El Salvador. After this incident, Mariana fled to the U.S. to escape the growing daily threat of the gang and also to avoid forcible recruitment. Mariana is living with her mother now while she complies with her immigration proceedings. Sadly, we know Mariana is just one of many children from the Northern Triangle trying to flee gang violence. H.R. 3697 would deny such children safety, forcibly returning them to situations where their wellbeing and even their lives would be at risk.

We should not be turning our back on children and families who have fallen victim to and are fleeing from the very criminal organizations which our country is so diligently working to eradicate. Rather, these victims are deserving of our compassion, care, and protection and should be encouraged to tell their stories so that we may adequately bolster our prevention and child protection work. Our committee understands and appreciates your commitment to the safety and security of our nation. H.R. 3697, however, is not the answer. We must resist the urge to mischaracterize and mislabel victims in search of a safe haven. We urge you to reject H.R. 3697 and instead work towards immigration reform that addresses root causes and safe repatriation and integration. And we pray that the all victims of criminal gangs – regardless of their immigration status – find peace and justice.

Sincerely,

Most Rev. Joe S. Vásquez, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration

 

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2017-09-12T22:29:49+00:00 News|

USCCB Committee on Migration Letter to Senate Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee

September 5, 2017

Honorable Roy Blunt, Chair

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

United States Senate

Russell Office Building, Office 260

Washington, DC 20510

 

Honorable Patty Murray, Ranking Member

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

United States Senate

Russell Office Building, Office 154

Washington, DC 20510

 

Dear Senators Roy Blunt and Patty Murray:

As a Church at the service of all God’s people, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM) stands ready to work with the leaders of both parties to protect poor and vulnerable people, promote human life and dignity, and advance the common good. I write to request your support for appropriate federal funding of several accounts and programs that are crucial for at-risk immigrants, refugees, unaccompanied children, and trafficking victims. As you finalize funding for FY 2018, please consider the following requests. We urge you as leaders of the relevant Senate appropriations committee to exercise crucial humanitarian leadership to maintain appropriate funding for these accounts that impact the most vulnerable.

Refugee Protection

Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies:

We ask that Congress appropriate at least $1.69 billion in Fiscal Year 2018 for the Refugee Entrant and Assistance (REA) account, an amount we believe would enable the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (HHS/ORR) to adequately serve all vulnerable populations under ORR’s care. As you know, the REA account helps state and local communities welcome and support refugees and other populations on their path to self-sufficiency. ORR also serves unaccompanied children, asylees, Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipients, Cuban and Haitian entrants, victims of human trafficking, and survivors of torture. In FY17, ORR is expected to serve an estimated 175,000 newly-arrived individuals, in addition to other recently-arrived individuals. For these services, Congress appropriated $1.69 billion in FY17 plus almost $400 million in transfer and contingency funds for a total of $2.1 billion in FY17. USCCB estimates that FY18 arrivals will be around 165,000 individuals. Given these continued large numbers, maintaining at least the $1.69 billion base funding would be prudent minimum funding. And, maintaining highly flexible transfer authority would also be reasonable planning to meet unforeseen contingencies.

Protection of Unaccompanied Children

Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies:

Within the $1.69 billion level of base funding that we suggest for the HHS REA account, we ask that Congress appropriate $948 million to serve unaccompanied children (UAC). ORR provides custody and care, shelter, and support services to UAC apprehended in the United States by Department of Homeland Security. UAC are taken into the custody of HHS/ORR pending reunification or resolution of their immigration cases. We note with approval that the Office of Management and Budget recommended this level of funding for the line item in the REA account related to these children.

Combatting Human Trafficking and Protecting Survivors

Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies:

Within the $1.69 billion level of funding that we suggest for the REA account, we ask that Congress appropriate $32 million for the Office of Trafficking in Persons (OTIP), in the form of $16 million to foreign national victims’ protection and $16 million to protection of U.S. citizen victims. We also ask Congress to appropriate $91 million for the Department of Labor International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB).

OTIP oversees the care and treatment of all U.S. citizen and foreign national trafficking victims in the United States. OTIP identifies and serves trafficking victims and provides specialized case management.

ILAB plays a critical role in efforts to eradicate child labor and address forced labor. Through its own reports, we know ILAB plays a major role in monitoring and reporting on labor practices in countries around the world. We strongly oppose the Administration’s proposal to not fund the grant program within ILAB.

Members of USCCB/COM just returned from a solidarity and assessment trip to Honduras and El Salvador, where we witnessed the life-saving “Youth Builders” program conducted by our sister agencies Catholic Relief Services and Caritas in the region. This program provides many youth from these countries with a viable alternative to dangerous migration and the risk of being victims of human trafficking. If the ILAB grant program receives no funding, as proposed by the Administration, such life-saving programs would end.

Thank you for considering our recommendations.

Yours truly,

Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin ,Chair, Committee on Migration, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

 

Full PDF version of the Letter

2017-09-06T08:45:36+00:00 News|

USCCB Committee On Migration Letter to Congress in Support of the Dream Act of 2017

Dear Representative:

I write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM) to urge you to support H.R. 3440 the “Dream Act of 2017.” This bipartisan legislation, introduced on July 26, 2017, by Representatives Roybal-Allard (D-CA-40) and Ros- Lehtinen (R-FL-27), would protect numerous immigrant youth from deportation, including the approximately 780,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

The Dream Act is intended to protect immigrant youth who entered the United States as children and know America as their only home. The bill offers qualifying immigrant youth “conditional permanent resident status” and a path to full lawful permanent residency and eventual citizenship. In order to receive the conditional status, the person must, among other requirements, have entered the U.S. as a child, been continuously present in the United States for at least four years prior to enactment of the bill, meet certain admissibility and security requirements, and have obtained or be pursuing secondary education. Current DACA recipients are also deemed eligible for the conditional status. H.R. 3440 allows recipients of this conditional status to obtain non- conditional lawful permanent residency if they satisfy requirements that include: background checks; demonstrated English proficiency; and either education in a higher learning institution, honorable military service, three years of employment in the United States, or a hardship exception.

My brother bishops and I believe in protecting the dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children. The Catholic Bishops have long supported these immigrant youth and their families who are contributors to our economy, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. These youth have grown up in our country, some even choosing to put their lives on the line to serve in our armed forces. They truly exemplify the extraordinary contributions that immigrants can provide to our nation. These youth should not be forced to live their lives in constant fear that they will be deported at any moment and separated from their families. It is both our moral duty and in our nation’s best interest to protect them and allow them to reach their God-given potential.

For these reasons, we ask you to support and co-sponsor the Dream Act of 2017. We also urge you to continue to work towards the larger legislative reform of our immigration laws that our country so desperately needs. As always, USCCB/COM stands ready to work with Congress to reform our immigration system in a humane, just, and common-sense manner.

Sincerely,

Most Rev. Joe S. Vásquez, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration

Click here for the PDF version of the lettter

2017-09-01T15:31:04+00:00 News|

Letter to President Trump on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Dear Mr. President,

As uncertainty surrounding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program continues with untold consequences, we write to strongly urge you to continue to support this vital program.

The Catholic Bishops have long supported DACA youth and continue to do so. We believe that the dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected. An estimated 800,000 young people have received and benefitted from the DACA program. Through our parishes and over 300 Catholic Charities, CLINIC and other affiliated member and partner agencies, we have had the privilege of meeting and working with tens of thousands of these outstanding individuals who are so much a part of who we are. They are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes and communities.

Your decision to continue this program would ensure that young people can continue to work, study, and be protected from deportation while Congress debates broader legislative fixes to our broken immigration system. A decision to end this program would turn our nation’s back on immigrant youth who are seeking to reach their full God-given potential and fulfill the promise of gratefully giving back to the only country most have ever known.

At the heart of Catholic Social Teaching is the moral obligation to protect the life and dignity of every human being, particularly the most vulnerable, which includes our youth. These young people were brought to the United States by their parents whose desire was to provide their children with hope, opportunity, and safety that they could never hope to find in their countries of birth.

Mr. President, your administration once again has an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate, both now and to future generations, our nation’s spirit of generosity and compassion. We hope and pray that you make the right decision to continue the DACA program for the benefit of not only these amazing youth, but our nation as a whole.

Sincerely,

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

Sr. Donna Markham OP, PhD, President and CEO, Catholic Charities USA

Jeanne M. Atkinson, Esq., Executive Director, Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC)

 

2017-08-30T15:55:23+00:00 News|

Know Your Rights Information for Parents and Sponsors of Unaccompanied Minors

Below are our two newest resource videos for you. These are Know Your Rights videos for parents and sponsors of unaccompanied minors. The videos can be found in both English and Spanish as well as found on our video resource page here.

Know Your Rights information for Parents and Sponsors of Unaccompanied Minors

Conozca sus derechos por padres y patrocinadores de niños no acompañados

2017-08-11T16:17:35+00:00 News|

USCCB Committe on Migration Chair Voices Opposition to Border Wall Funding

Dear Representatives,

I write on behalf of the Committee on Migration of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to express our opposition to including funding for a dramatic increase in construction of border fencing in the fiscal year 2018 appropriations package that the full House of Representatives is scheduled to take up this week.

As you know, the House Committee on Appropriations included approximately $1.6 billion in funding for border fencing construction in H.R. 3355, its proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Homeland Security Appropriations Act, and there are strong indications that the House intends to include this funding in an unrelated appropriations package that the House plans to take up this week.  This funding has been described by the Administration, and others, as a “down payment” on the Administration’s plan to construct a wall along the entire U.S. border with Mexico.

The bishops respect the right of the federal government to control our borders and ensure security for all Americans.  However, we oppose the construction of a wall like the one that is envisioned by this proposed appropriation.  Indeed, we fear that construction of such a wall would put immigrant lives needlessly in harm’s way, could increase the risk of women and child migrants being trafficked, and destabilize the many interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border.  Moreover, an expenditure of the amount of funding necessary to construct such a wall does not reflect a proper prioritization of scarce federal funds in a time of fiscal austerity.

We urge that the House reject any plans to include funding for a “down payment” for the construction of the Administration’s proposed border wall in the fiscal year 2018 appropriations package that it takes up this week.

Sincerely.

Most Rev. Joe S. Vásquez

Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration

Click here to read the PDF Version of the Letter

2017-07-26T10:51:08+00:00 News|