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USCCB and CRS Support Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act of 2019, S. 636

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Dear Senators,

We write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Migration and International Justice and Peace, and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to express support for the bi-partisan Venezuela Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Act of 2019, S. 636.1 It mandates the designation of TPS for qualified Venezuelans present in the United States, pursuant to Section 244(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It also authorizes U.S. funding to help build regional and national capacity of the protection systems in host nations in Latin America and the Caribbean to respond more adequately to the large numbers of forcibly displaced Venezuelans. Given the unprecedented humanitarian crisis facing displaced Venezuelans, the U.S. must not only provide humanitarian assistance in the region, but also support humanitarian protection in the U.S. for those who cannot return home.

The ongoing political unrest, violence, and food and medicine shortages in Venezuela have caused over four million citizens to flee the country.2 The Justice and Peace Commission of the Venezuelan Bishops Conference has recently noted the numerous violations of fundamental human rights inflicted by the police and threats to citizens’ access to health and medicine.3 While stability in Venezuela has been tenuous since 2015, it is continuing to deteriorate at an alarming rate.

On March 11, 2019, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) temporarily suspended operations of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas and withdrew diplomatic personnel from the country.4 On March 12, 2019, the DOS issued a Level Four “Do Not Travel” advisory for Venezuela.5 In issuing a subsequent travel advisory on April 9, 2019, DOS explained that in addition to violent political demonstrations and shortages in basic necessities (food, water, electricity, and medical care), the country suffers from high rates of violent crime, such as homicide, armed robbery, and kidnapping.6 Moreover, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported on July 4, 2019, that there have been an estimated 6,856 extrajudicial killings of government opponents between January 2018 and May 2019.7

These well-documented conditions have also been seen firsthand by our Catholic partners on the ground. Catholic Relief Services supports partners who report that of 15,000 children under age 5 being monitored, 76 percent show signs of nutritional deficit, and another 13 percent are living with acute malnutrition.8

Granting TPS will provide qualified Venezuelans in the United States safety for a period of 18 months. The distressing conditions discussed above show that humanitarian assistance is much needed. The protection designation is appropriate under the TPS statute based on at least two grounds: (1) that Venezuela is suffering from “ongoing armed conflict within the state” and, consequently, return of nationals to the country would “pose a serious threat to their personal safety,”9 or (2) that it is facing “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that prevent nationals “from returning to the state in safety.”10

We believe mandating TPS for Venezuelans is also a moral, compassionate and necessary response. TPS would ensure that an estimated 150,000 qualifying Venezuelans here in the United States are not returned to dangerous and life-threatening situations,11 and TPS would give them an opportunity to live with dignity, work lawfully, and provide for their families’ well-being until they can safely return home. For these reasons, we urge you to immediately pass the bi-partisan Venezuela TPS Act of 2019, S. 636.
We appreciate your consideration of this request. We continue to pray for Venezuela’s swift recovery and for the day when those who have fled to the safety of other countries may return home.

Respectfully,

Most Rev. Joe S. Vásquez, Chairman Committee on Migration, Bishop of Austin, Texas

Most Rev. Timothy P. Broglio, Committee Intl. Justice & Peace, Archbishop of the Military, USA

Sean Callahan, President/CEO, Catholic Relief Services

 

 

1 Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act of 2019, S. 636, available at https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/s636/BILLS-116s636is.pdf
2 “Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela to 4 Million: UNHCR and IOM,” UNHCR (June 7, 2019), available at https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/press/2019/6/5cfa2a4a4/refugees-migrants-venezuela-top-4-million-unhcr-iom.html 3 Linda Bordoni, Venezuelan Bishops Urge Prosecutors to Uphold Human Rights in the Face of Violations, Vatican News (Feb. 20, 2019), available at https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2019-02/venezuela-bishops-justice-human-rights-violations.html
4 “U.S. relations with Venezuela,” Department of State (July 8, 2019), available at https://www.state.gov/u-s-relations-with-venezuela/ 5 Venezuela Travel Advisory, Department of State (March 12, 2019), available at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Venezuela.html#/
6 Venezuela Travel Advisory, Department of State (April 9, 2019), available at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/venezuela-travel-advisory.html
7 “UN Human Rights report on Venezuela urges immediate measures to halt and remedy grave human rights violations,” UN Human Rights Office of the High Commission (July 4, 2019), available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24788&LangID=E 8 Catholic Relief Services, Venezuela Humanitarian Crisis 1 (Jan. 25, 2019), available at https://www.crs.org/resource-center/venezuela-humanitarian-crisis-emergency-fact-sheet 9 8 U.S.C. § 1254a(b)(1)(A). 10 Id. at § 1254a(b)(1)(C). 11 US: Offers Venezuelans in US Temporary Protection, Human Rights Watch (March 8, 2019), available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/08/us-offer-Venezuelans-US-temporary-protection (“The Venezuelan American National Bar Association estimates that there are about 150,000 Venezuelan nationals in the US who would qualify for Temporary Protected Status.”).
2019-10-07T14:53:10-04:00News|

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

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

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

 

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

Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship

“The Expansion and Troubling Use of ICE Detention”

 

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

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

  1. Catholic Social Teaching and Opposition to Immigrant Detention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Policy Recommendations

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

Specifically, we urge Congress to require ICE to:

A. End Family Detention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. End Large Scale Use of Mandatory Immigrant Detention.

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

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

III.      Conclusion

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

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

 

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

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

Written Statement of William Canny,

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

For a Hearing of the House Committee on Appropriations,

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Needs of the Children and Importance of Support Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Read the PDF version of the Testimony Here

 

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

USCCB Letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Opposing S. 1494

July 31, 2019

Dear Senator:

I write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration (COM) to express our opposition to S. 1494, the “Secure and Protect Act of 2019”, as well as to the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute that we understand Chairman Graham will submit to the bill during this week’s markup by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

Our approach to migration is rooted in the Gospel and in the life and teaching of Jesus, who himself was a migrant and refugee, forced to flee for his life with Mary and Joseph. While the Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their borders, nations also have a strong obligation to treat all migrants humanely, to protect children at risk, and to protect those fleeing from persecution. As a nation of immigrants and refugees, we have a long history and commitment to providing welcome and protection for vulnerable immigrants and refugees.

As introduced, and as it would be amended by the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute, S. 1494 would roll back important protections in current law for vulnerable unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings and create new obstacles for them. It also would make it more difficult for migrant children who are parts of family units and their parents to seek and obtain the immigration relief to which they may be entitled. Additionally, the bill would eviscerate protections in current law for asylum seekers, making it more difficult for bona fide refugees to access the protection of asylum and more likely that they will be thrown back into the hands of their persecutors.

S. 1494 contains many provisions that would be harmful to children.

It would consign vulnerable and traumatized children to prolonged detention and eliminate many standards in existing law and judicial orders that mandate their humane treatment. More specifically, it would overturn important protections contained in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 and overturn critical protections for them contained in the Flores Settlement Agreement and its related court orders.

The measure also would unreasonably expedite children’s removal proceedings, thereby limiting their ability to secure legal representation. It could limit children’s release to sponsors pending their immigration court proceedings, leading to prolonged time in federal custody. Also, it would force the repatriation of children who are not found to qualify for asylum without consideration of whether they will be safe when they return. And it would make it more difficult for abused, neglected, or abandoned children to obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile relief in the United States. Further, it contains provisions that would severely limit due process and humanitarian protections for children, subjecting them to new standards that would be more difficult than those that adults face.

With respect to asylum, S. 1494 also would eviscerate protections in current law for asylum seekers, making it more difficult for people fleeing persecution to access the protection of asylum and more likely that they will be thrown back into harm’s way.

Among the asylum-related provisions in the measure we object to are those that would bar persons who enter the United States between ports of entry from obtaining asylum, as well as provisions that would allow the United States to unilaterally deem a country a “safe third country.” We also oppose the bill’s provision requiring the temporary establishment of processing centers in Central America and Mexico and barring migrants from those countries from applying for asylum at the U.S. border. And we also do not support provisions that would subject Central American asylum seekers to the annual refugee ceiling, which has been set at historically low numbers under the current Administration. Finally, we oppose provisions that would limit asylum seekers’ ability to apply for other types of relief beyond asylum.

For these reasons, we urge you to oppose S. 1494 during the Committee’s consideration of this measure and to support amendments to eliminate its onerous provisions.

Thank you for considering our concerns.

Sincerely,

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

 

To Download a PDF version of this letter, click here

2019-08-27T10:59:16-04:00News|

Joint Letter Supporting United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act (H.R. 2615)

June 24, 2019

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committees on International Justice and Peace and Migration, and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), we urge you to support the “United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act” (H.R. 2615). Introduced by Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY), Michael McCaul (R-TX), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Francis Rooney (R-FL), Norma Torres (D-CA), Ann Wagner (R-MO), and Henry Cuellar (D-TX), this important bill authorizes $577 million to Central America to address root causes of migration, including violence, food insecurity, and lack of economic opportunity. The legislation also prevents funds from being reprogrammed, transferred, or rescinded. Furthermore, it requires the Secretary of State and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator to prioritize inclusive economic growth and development, anticorruption, and strengthening democratic institutions and security conditions in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

The Church believes that people have the right to find opportunities in their home countries and that they have the right to migrate when conditions in their country of origin preclude them from providing for the safety and wellbeing of their families. The administration recently revoked foreign assistance to Central America, including poverty-reducing aid. We are concerned that an absence of U.S. investment and engagement will not only impede development, but also create a vacuum where poverty, instability, and migration will grow. We are encouraged that this bipartisan Congressional effort will uphold U.S. leadership and our steadfast commitment to the poor and vulnerable, so families can thrive without leaving home.

CRS, in partnership with the U.S. Government, the local church, and other civil society partners, implements youth development, water smart agriculture, education, health, and emergency response programs to promote prosperity and alleviate the push factors of migration. The United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act will ensure that poverty-reducing programs continue and that the U.S. effectively and humanely addresses violence, lack of protection and economic opportunity, and corruption in the Northern Triangle.

Thank you for your serious consideration to support the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act. We look forward to working with you to address the root causes of migration and support just policies that promote human security, good governance, and communal prosperity.

Sincerely yours,

Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, Chair, Committee on
International Justice and Peace, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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

Mr. Sean Callahan, President and CEO, Catholic Relief Services

 

For a PDF of this letter, click here

2019-06-24T12:42:33-04:00News|

USCCB letter in support of the Dream Act of 2019, the American Promise Act of 2019, and the Venezuela TPS Act of 2019

May 21, 2019

 

U.S. House of Representatives

Committee on the Judiciary

2138 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

 

VIA EMAIL

 

Dear Representative,

I write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM) to urge you to support the ‘‘Dream Act of 2019,’’ the “American Promise Act of 2019,” and the “Venezuela TPS Act of 2019,” which are all scheduled to be marked up by the House Judiciary Committee this Wednesday, May 22. These important bills, as written, would provide lawful permanent residency and a path to citizenship for qualifying Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders, as well as TPS for qualifying Venezuelans in the U.S.

The Dream Act of 2019 provides critical protection to Dreamers, immigrant youth who entered the United States as children and know America as their only home. The bill offers young people who qualify “permanent resident status on a conditional basis” and a path to full lawful permanent residency and eventual citizenship. To receive the conditional status, the youth 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.

The American Promise Act of 2019 similarly offers essential protections to TPS and DED holders. The bill provides lawful permanent resident status for eligible individuals from countries designated for TPS or DED as of January 1, 2017, and who have been living in the U.S. for at least three years. Eligible individuals must also meet criminal and national security requirements for admissibility, including passing a background check.

My brother bishops and I support these two bills, as written, and the populations they seek to protect. We believe in defending the dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and families, and have long stood in solidarity with Dreamers, TPS holders, and their families. These young people contribute to our economy, defend our country through military service, excel academically in our universities, and are leaders in our parishes and communities. 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.

Because of the ongoing political unrest, violence, and shortages of food and resources in Venezuela, we believe providing a TPS designation for Venezuela is a moral and compassionate response.  Further, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Venezuelan Bishops Conference has recently noted the numerous violations of fundamental human rights inflicted by the police and threats to citizens’ access to health and medicine.[1] These alarming conditions have been well-documented and seen firsthand by our Catholic partners on the ground and are reflected in the Department of State’s recent travel advisory.[2]

Consequently, we urge you to support the Venezuela TPS Act of 2019, which would designate Venezuela for TPS for an initial period of 18 months. This bill would give Venezuelans here in the United States an opportunity to live with dignity, work lawfully, and provide for their families’ well-being until they can safely return home. Also, this would ensure that Venezuelans who qualify here in the U.S. are not returned to dangerous and life-threatening situations.

Thank you for your consideration of our recommendation to support the Dream Act of 2019, the American Promise Act of 2019, and the Venezuela TPS Act of 2019. We urge you to oppose any amendments to these bills that seek to undermine the critical protections for these valuable members of our communities.

Sincerely,

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

Click here for a PDF Version of the Letter

[1] Linda Bordoni, Venezuelan Bishops Urge Prosecutors to Uphold Human Rights in the Face of Violations, Vatican News (Feb. 20, 2019), available at https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2019-02/venezuela-bishops-justice-human-rights-violations.html.
[2] Venezuela Travel Advisory, Department of State (March 12, 2019), https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/venezuela-travel-advisory.html.
2019-05-21T16:30:28-04:00News|

USCCB/CRS Letter to Secretary Pompeo Objecting to Funding Cuts in Northern Triangle

The Honorable Mike Pompeo
Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary,

We, the undersigned, write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committees on International Justice and Peace and Migration, and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to urge you to continue funding poverty-reducing development and humanitarian assistance at Congressionally appropriated levels to the people of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador from Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018. Poverty-reducing programs, like the ones implemented by CRS in partnership with local faith-based agencies in the region, help meet the basic needs of families, offer hope to youth impacted by violence, and provide economic opportunities so that families can thrive on their land and resist the push factors of migration. Furthermore, poverty-reducing and civil-society-building programs directly affect regional security and stability, providing local populations with self-determination and hope in their struggle against corruption and transnational criminal organizations operating in the area. We
urge the Administration and Congress to strengthen the U.S. commitment to the Northern Triangle and uphold our country’s values as a generous nation that alleviates suffering and cultivates just and peaceful societies.

CRS partners with the U.S. government in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to help address the root causes of migration – violence and lack of protection, food insecurity, and lack of economic opportunity. Across the region, CRS has partnered with more than 400 businesses and worked with over 9,000 youth, helping roughly 70% of program participants return to school, find a job, or start an entrepreneurial venture. In a recently completed Food for Peace program, the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day was reduced by more than half and chronic malnutrition in children under five went down more than five times the national average. CRS also works to improve the quality of life for 200 communities in 30 municipalities in rural Guatemala, supporting more than 23,500 community members to design 156 community development plans. Furthermore, with U.S. government support, CRS has served millions of school meals, trained thousands of teachers, and supported hundreds of school infrastructure projects to improve school attendance and literacy among school-aged children and create a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities.

In our hemisphere, the United States has consistently provided crucial leadership in the areas of international humanitarian and development assistance, helping the countries of the Northern Triangle lay the foundation for civil societies to respond effectively to poverty, corruption, and violence. No other country but our own can provide this leadership. If we revoke funding now, we run the risk of impeding developmental successes and creating a vacuum for increased poverty, instability, and migration. We must continue to collaborate with local civil societies to improve the conditions in the Northern Triangle. Governments in the region must be held accountable, but civil society and poor and vulnerable communities, dependent as they are on U.S. development leadership, should not suffer more because of these countries’ governments. We urge the Administration to reconsider redirecting poverty-reducing foreign assistance funds  from Central America from Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018; and, instead, target funds toward effective programming that promotes human security, good governance, and communal
prosperity in the region. Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely yours,

Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio Chairman, USCCB Committee on International Justice

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

Mr. Sean Callahan, President/CEO, Catholic Relief Services

2019-05-17T10:56:57-04:00News|

USCCB/CRS Letter Advocating for TPS Status for Venezuelans

The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen

Secretary, Department of Homeland Security

Washington, DC 20528

 

The Honorable Michael Pompeo

Secretary, Department of State

Washington, DC, 20520

 

VIA EMAIL

RE: TPS Designation for Venezuela

Dear Secretary Nielsen,

We write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to urge you to designate Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), pursuant to Section 244(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.[1] Given the unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, its nationals cannot safely be returned home at this time. Our nation has the legal ability, as well as the moral responsibility, to provide Venezuelans in the U.S. with temporary protection.

The ongoing political unrest, violence, and shortages in Venezuela have caused millions of citizens to flee the country. The Justice and Peace Commission of the Venezuelan Bishops Conference have recently noted the numerous violations of fundamental human rights inflicted by the police and threats to citizens’ access to health and medicine.[2] And, as you well know, while stability in Venezuela has been tenuous since 2015, it is continuing to deteriorate at an alarming rate, which is evidenced by the Department of State’s (DOS) issuance of a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory for Venezuela on March 12, 2019. This advisory came just a day after DOS announced that it would be temporarily suspending operations at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas and withdrawing diplomatic personnel from the country. In issuing the subsequent travel advisory, DOS explained that in addition to violent political demonstrations and shortages in basic necessities (food, water,electricity, and medical care), the country suffers from high rates of violent crime, such as homicide, armed robbery, and kidnapping.[3]

These well-documented conditions have also been seen firsthand by our Catholic partners on the ground. Catholic Relief Services supports partners who report that of 15,000 children under age 5 being monitored, 76 percent show signs of nutritional deficit, and another 13 percent are living with acute malnutrition.[4]

For these reasons, we urge you to immediately designate Venezuela for TPS for a period of 18 months. The distressing conditions discussed above show that such a designation would be appropriate and could be made either on the grounds that: (1) Venezuela is suffering from “ongoing armed conflict within the state” and, consequently, return of nationals to the country would “pose a serious threat to their personal safety,”[5] or (2) that it is facing “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that prevent nationals “from returning to the state in safety.”[6]

We believe providing a TPS designation for Venezuela is also a moral, compassionate and needed response. TPS would ensure that an estimated 150,000 qualifying Venezuelans here in the U.S. are not returned to dangerous and life-threatening situations[7] and give them an opportunity to live with dignity, work lawfully, and provide for their families’ well-being until they can safely return home.

We appreciate your consideration of this request. We are praying for Venezuela’s swift recovery and for the day when those who have fled to the safety of other countries may return home.

Respectfully,

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

Sean Callahan, President and CEO, Catholic Relief Services

 

For a PDF version of the letter, click here

 

[1] 8 U.S.C. § 1254(a).
[2] Linda Bordoni, Venezuelan Bishops Urge Prosecutors to Uphold Human Rights in the Face of Violations, Vatican News (Feb. 20, 2019), available at https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2019-02/venezuela-bishops-justice-human-rights-violations.html.
[3] Venezuela Travel Advisory, Department of State (March 12, 2019), https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/venezuela-travel-advisory.html.
[4] Catholic Relief Services, Venezuela Humanitarian Crisis 1 (Jan. 25, 2019), available at https://www.crs.org/resource-center/venezuela-humanitarian-crisis-emergency-fact-sheet.
[5] 8 U.S.C. § 1254a(b)(1)(A).
[6] Id. at § 1254a(b)(1)(C).
[7] US: Offer Venezuelans in US Temporary Protection, Human Rights Watch (March 8, 2019), https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/08/us-offer-venezuelans-us-temporary-protection (“The Venezuelan American National Bar Association estimates that there are about 150,000 Venezuelan nationals in the US who would qualify for Temporary Protected Status.”).

 

 

 

2019-04-04T16:03:55-04:00News|

Written Testimony of Most Reverend Mario Eduardo Dorsonville-Rodríguez For a Hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary “Protecting Dreamers and TPS Recipients”

Click here for the full testimony

My name is Mario Eduardo Dorsonville-Rodríguez. I am the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington and the incoming Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM). On behalf of USCCB/COM, I would like to thank the House Committee on the Judiciary, as well as the Committee Chair, Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NJ), and the Ranking Member, Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), for holding this important hearing and for inviting me to testify before the Committee.

The Catholic bishops have long supported and will continue to support Dreamers,[1] as well as holders of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).[2] We recognize these individuals as children of God, and we will remain focused in our efforts to ensure that they and their families can live dignified lives and reach their God-given potential. In this testimony, I provide a brief overview of USCCB’s work in serving immigrants and advocating for immigration reform, discuss the importance of finding a permanent solution for Dreamers and TPS holders, and share our key recommendations for Congress as it seeks a legislative solution for these individuals.

 

Catholic Social Teaching and Migration

The work of our Committee on Migration is carried out by USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS). USCCB/MRS works to advance the migration-related priorities of our Committee, which include advocacy and policy advancement around humane and comprehensive immigration reform, just and proportionate immigration enforcement, and improved access to justice and due process for immigrants and refugees seeking refuge and fleeing persecution. Among its many activities, USCCB/MRS is also a long-standing government partner, providing support for and assistance through the Catholic Charities network to refugees, foreign national and U.S. citizen human trafficking survivors, Cuban and Haitian entrants, and unaccompanied immigrant children.

Our work assisting and advocating on behalf of immigrants and refugees stems from the belief that every person is created in God’s image. We follow the teaching of the Gospel, and 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). When we see Jesus’s example we reflect those values.

Dreamers and TPS and DED holders are our neighbors, parishioners, and – most importantly – fellow children of God. We, as a Church, have long advocated for their legal protection, full inclusion into our country and the overall wellbeing of them and their families. USCCB worked with Members of the House and Senate in helping to draft the first versions of the DREAM Act in 2000 and 2001, and it has been calling for passage of the measure since that time .[3] Even as we welcomed the announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhoods Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, our Committee noted that it was not a substitute for enactment of the DREAM Act or similar legislative protections.[4] We steadfastly believe that Dreamers need permanent legal protection, with a path to citizenship, enacted by Congress.

Similarly, for years, USCCB has advocated for TPS for those seeking safety from the ravages of violence, environmental disasters, and despair. In fact, USCCB worked closely with Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) and Representative Joe Moakley (D-MA) to support enactment of the authority for TPS in the Immigration Act of 1990.[5] Through its global presence and the work of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official humanitarian and development agency of the  Catholic community, the Catholic Church has assisted and ministered to those who have experienced firsthand the ravages of armed conflict, violence, and environmental disasters in their home countries. Given this global presence, the Catholic Church consistently advocated for protections of nationals living in the United States when Congress began debating the concept of temporary protected status in various forms during the 1980s.[6]

Over the years, the USCCB and other Catholic entities have encouraged various Presidential Administrations to designate countries for TPS in situations of environmental disasters and political instability.[7]  In 2017, USCCB/COM led delegation trips to Haiti[8] and to El Salvador and Honduras[9] in order to explore conditions and the need to extend TPS for these countries. The reports found that despite some improvements by home countries, the conditions still existed for the extension of TPS, most notably as most of the home countries could not adequately handle the return and reintegration of their nationals as required by the statute.[10]

In addition to our call to protect the individuals directly impacted, the Church also views the need to protect Dreamers and TPS recipients as the need to protect families – the very foundation of our country and of our Church. Not only do Dreamers and TPS recipients deserve a chance to stay and fully integrate in the U.S. through permanent protections – they deserve to be able to stay with their families. Dreamers and TPS holders and their families should not face family separation. Family unity is vital for the strength of our country, our Church, and our communities.

 

Dreamers

Knowing the many contributions of DACA youth to our nation, it was with extreme concern that we witnessed the Administration’s attempt to terminate the program in 2017.[11] And, while the DACA termination has been partially and temporarily halted due to ongoing litigation, we know that DACA youth continue to face great uncertainty. Furthermore, we know that many of the over 1.8 million Dreamers do not have DACA protection.  For these young people, Congressional action is the only solution.

We see and hear about this uncertainty every day in our dioceses and in our parishes. I have been personally impacted by the stories I have heard from DACA youth in the Archdiocese of Washington. I have witnessed their tears, their secret concerns not only for their futures but for their families. Many ask: What will happen to me? What will happen to my family?

Dreamers are exemplary youths.  Like their name implies, they are examples of the American Dream. They are contributors to our economy, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. These young people 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 have long provided to our nation. I have been privileged to meet so many of these ambitious young people who want nothing more than to work and achieve in this country so that they may better themselves and their families. This is the only home that they know and where they are sure they will be able to succeed because they are part of the language, the culture and they have their roots here.

Dreamers are young people like Edith. Edith is a 19-year-old DACA recipient and student at the University of New Mexico. Born in Mexico, Edith was brought to the U.S. as a toddler by her mother and father. She grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her parents and her two younger sisters, both of whom are U.S. citizens. As Edith states: “America is my home . . . . Despite being born in Mexico, I [] always felt at home here, where I have grown up since arriving as a two-year-old.” Edith worked incredibly hard in school and graduated her high school class as valedictorian. She continues to excel in college and is double majoring in psychology and math. Her passion is helping others, and she finds time in her busy school schedule to volunteer at the Campus Agora Crisis Center, which handles area-wide crisis calls. Edith dreams of becoming a U.S. citizen so that she can one day work as a behavioral analyst for the F.B.I.

Providing Dreamers, like Edith, with a path to citizenship will advance the common good and allow these young people to reach their God-given potential.

Finding such a solution will further help families. Take, for example, Maria, a native of Peru, 21-year-old DACA recipient, and student at William Joseph University. Her parents, both undocumented, brought her to California when she was only four years old. As Maria explains: “This is the country I know. This is the country I grew up in. I know the language; I know the history. I know it better than I know the country I was born in.” Maria has been a role model for her three younger sisters who are all U.S. citizens. Given that her parents are both undocumented and the uncertainty surrounding her DACA status, Maria worries about the possibility of deportation and the implications for her family: “My sisters, who are U.S. citizens, would be left without anyone.”

Dreamers are young, educated, tax-paying individuals who are valuable members of American families, our work force, and our communities. They have not only the support of the Church but of the American public as well. Finding a solution for these admirable young people is both the moral and common-sense path. On behalf of the USCCB Committee on Migration, I urge Congress to act now to ensure that Dreamers have permanent legal protection that includes a path to citizenship.

 

TPS and DED Holders

Over the past few years, we have also expressed our deep concern over the Administration’s attempt to terminate the TPS designations for many countries, including Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. These termination decisions have left hundreds of thousands of individuals and their families in a state of uncertainty and fear. While the terminations are subject to multiple lawsuits, an estimated 320,000 TPS holders – some of whom have lived in the U.S. for over twenty years – face potential loss of status and family separation if Congress does not act. TPS holders need a permanent legal solution that only Congress and the President, working together, can provide.

Like Dreamers, TPS and DED holders are part of our country and our communities.  Many also are a part of our Church. They worship in our local parishes, own homes and businesses, and contribute to our economy. Many TPS recipients have families in the U.S., including over 273,000 U.S. citizen children.[12]  It is, again, the issue of family unity that is so pressing to the Catholic Church in the case of TPS holders. Given the large number of U.S. citizen children who have TPS holder parents, we must think about what the terminations of TPS would do to these families. What type of choices would these families have to make? Would families endure separation of parents living apart from their children in order to ensure U.S. citizens receive the educational opportunities in the United States to which they are entitled? These are questions that we as the Church are facing, and, more importantly, TPS holders and their families are grappling with every day.

TPS holders are individuals like Blanca,[13] who was originally from El Salvador but has been living in the U.S. for over 16 years. Blanca currently works as a school aide at a local public school. She is married and has four children (ages 16, 15, 11 and 9), all of whom are U.S. citizens. Blanca is actively engaged with her community. She attends Mass regularly and teaches Catechesis to children in her parish. She also finds time to volunteer in her children’s school. Blanca worries about what will happen if there is no legislative solution for TPS recipients. She does not want to be torn from her children, but she also knows that their home is in the U.S. As Blanca explains, it is important to remember that “many TPS holders have families they have to feed and can’t afford to be separated from them.”

I know that Blanca is not the exception – I have met and spoken with many similar TPS holders and their families. In April 2018, I welcomed my brother bishops from El Salvador to Washington, D.C., and during their visit, I had the opportunity to join them not only in their meetings with the U.S. government but also in their community dialogues. During the community dialogues, which were held in conjunction with special Masses hosted at St. Camillus Parish, in Silver Spring, Maryland, the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, in Washington, D.C., and the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, in Arlington, Virginia, I repeatedly heard of TPS holders’ many ties to the U.S. and the anxiety they and their families face given the possibility of being separated.

Since the announced terminations, I have also learned of many TPS holders who are fearful for their safety and livelihoods if they return to their countries of origin. These are individuals like Mitsu and her brother, who were born and raised in Haiti but came to the U.S. on student visas to attend college. In 2010, during the course of their studies, Haiti was hit with a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, which devastated the country. Due to the severity of the earthquake, the U.S. government designated Haiti for TPS. Mitsu and her brother applied for and received TPS, providing them protection and permitting them to continue their studies. Mitsu now works as a physician assistant, allowing her to provide financial support to her parents back in Haiti.  She speaks to her parents frequently, hearing about conditions in Haiti.  She knows that the country has not yet recovered from the earthquake and subsequent hurricanes. “Haiti is nowhere near in a condition to support its current residents let alone receive citizens currently living abroad.” Mitsu hopes that Congress will take action and find a permanent solution for TPS recipients. “We have done everything the right way [in applying for TPS and consistently renewing]; yet, still find ourselves entangled within the immigration debate.”

Finding a solution for TPS holders will ensure that hardworking individuals are not ripped from their homes, families, and businesses. It is the just and right course of action – not only for these families but for our communities.

 

Recommendations

As Congress contemplates a solution for these groups, we strongly encourage it to ensure that any legislation:

  1. Protects All Dreamers and Offers Them a Path to Citizenship. A legislative solution should address the entire Dreamer population, as there are many young people who were brought here as children but were prevented from obtaining DACA due to the program’s age cut-offs and filing fees. Additionally, most of these young people know the United States as their only home and should not be denied the opportunity to obtain U.S. citizenship and fully participate and integrate into American civic life.
  1. Provides a Path to Citizenship for TPS and DED Holders. A solution should ensure a path to citizenship for individuals who have personal equities that are closely associated with U.S. interests, such as U.S. citizen children, businesses, and home mortgages.
  1. Maintains Existing Protections for Unaccompanied Children, Asylum Seekers, and Family-Based Immigrants. A solution for Dreamers and holders of TPS and DED must not be achieved at the expense of other immigrant children and families. Such a tradeoff would be heartless and untenable. We ask that you ensure any solution maintains existing protections for unaccompanied children and asylum seekers, as these protections help prevent trafficking and abuse, as well as ensure access to adequate care and due process. We also ask that you ensure that any solution for Dreamers and TPS recipients, at a minimum, maintain existing avenues for family-based and diversity-based immigration. Eliminating or reducing these avenues would be inconsistent with our values and encourage irregular flows of migration by people desperate to be reunited with close family members, from whom they have been separated from.

 

Conclusion

We appreciate the Committee on the Judiciary’s attention to this important issue. And, we encourage all members of Congress to work towards a humane and just solution for these vital members of our communities. As always, the Catholic Church stands ready to work with you in achieving this goal and will continue to stand in solidarity with Dreamers, TPS holders and their families.

 

[1] Dreamers are young people who were brought to the United States without authorization as children by their parents or family members. Dreamers include those young people who have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), those who are eligible and did not apply for DACA, as well as other undocumented individuals of a similar age group who did not make the age-cut off for DACA (as they were slightly older or younger at the time). The Catholic Church advocates for permanent legal protection and a path to citizenship for all Dreamers, not just the DACA recipient population.
[2] TPS was established by Congress through the Immigration Act of 1990. TPS is intended to protect foreign nationals in the United States from being returned to their home countries if the home country became unsafe to return to during the time in which the individuals were in the U.S. Countries are designated for TPS due to armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. See 8 U.S.C. § 1254a. First used in 1990, DED is a discretionary and temporary stay of removal that is granted to individuals from certain designated countries. Nationals from a certain country are designated for DED by the President under his constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations. Adjudicator’s Field Manual, Section 38.2 – Deferred Enforced Departure, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, https://www.uscis.gov/ilink/docView/AFM/HTML/AFM/0-0-0-1/0-0-0-16606/0-0-0-16764.html (last visited March 1, 2019).
[3] USCCB, et al., Letter to Senators Hatch and Durbin on DREAM Act (March 6, 2003) (on file with USCCB).
[4] Statement of Archbishop Gomez, Bishops Welcome President’s Deferred Action on Dream Eligible Youth, Urge Congressional Action on DREAM Act (June 15, 2012), available at http://www.usccb.org/news/2012/12-110.cfm.
[5] See, e.g., USCCB, Letter to President George W. Bush on TPS for El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua (April 4, 2001) (on file with USCCB); USCCB, Letter to President George W. Bush on TPS for Haiti (Oct. 8, 2008) (on file with USCCB).
[6] Claire Bergeron, Temporary Protected Status after 25 Years: Addressing the Challenge of Long-Term “Temporary” Residents and Strengthening a Centerpiece of US Humanitarian Protection, 2 Journal on Migration and Human Security 22, 26-28 (2014).
[7] See, e.g., USCCB, Letter to President Barack Obama on TPS for Haiti (Jan. 15, 2010), available at http://www.usccb.org/news/2010/10-013.cfm; USCCB/COM, et al., Letter to Secretary Jeh Johnson and Secretary John Kerry on Protection for and Aid to Haitians after Hurricane Matthew (Nov. 1, 2016), available at https://justiceforimmigrants.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Catholic-Partners-Haiti-Letter-11.1.16-FINAL1.pdf.
[8] USCCB/COM, Haiti’s Ongoing Road to Recovery: The Necessity of an Extension of Temporary Protected Status (2017), available at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/fact-finding-mission-reports/upload/mrs-haiti-trip-report.pdf.
[9] USCCB/COM, Temporary Protected Status: A Vital Piece of the Central American Protection and Prosperity Puzzle (2017), available at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/fact-finding-mission-reports/upload/el-salvador-honduras-report-20171016.pdf.
[10] Id.; supra note 8.
[11] Statement of Cardinal DiNardo, et al., USCCB President, Vice President and Committee Chairmen Denounce Administration’s Decision to End DACA and Strongly Urge Congress to Find Legislative Solution (Sept. 5, 2017), available at http://www.usccb.org/news/2017/17-157.cfm.
[12] Robert Warren and Donald Kerwin, Center for Migration Studies, A Statistical and Demographic Profile of the US Temporary Protected Status Populations from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, 5 Journal on Migration and Human Security 577 (2017).
[13] Name changed to protect client confidentiality.
2019-03-06T11:12:34-04:00News|

Written Statement For a Hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary “Oversight of the Trump Administration’s Family Separation Policy”

For a PDF of this testimony, Click Here

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 House Judiciary Committee, as well as the Committee Chair Representative, Jerrold Nadler (D-NJ), and the Ranking Member, Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), for the opportunity to submit this written statement for the record.

The treatment of immigrants and protection of family unity are of profound importance to the Catholic Church. USCCB/MRS has long supported and served unaccompanied children and immigrant families. And, in the wake of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) April 6, 2018 “Zero Tolerance” memorandum, USCCB/MRS had the opportunity to assist the federal government in its effort to comply to reunify separated families. Through this effort, USCCB/MRS worked on a charitable basis to reunify and serve nearly 900 of the separated and reunified families. With this experience, USCCB/MRS, through the national Catholic Charities network, is the single largest service-provider for this vulnerable population. While USCCB/MRS appreciated the opportunity to assist and reunify these families, the Church has been and continues to be a vocal opponent of forcible family separation. As Cardinal DiNardo, President of the USCCB, and Bishop Vasquez, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration noted: separating babies from their mothers is immoral.

In this statement, I provide a brief overview of USCCB/MRS’ experience serving separated children and reunified families and then share recommendations to promote their humane and just treatment by the U.S. government.

 

  1. USCCB’s History of Serving Immigrant Children and Families

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. 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 Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). 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 2018, the USCCB/MRS Safe Passages program served 1,125 youth who arrived as unaccompanied children—907 through the family reunification program and 218 children through the residential care programs.

Additionally, the Catholic Church in the United States has long worked to support immigrant families, providing them with legal assistance, pastoral accompaniment, and visitation within immigrant detention facilities, as well as social and integration assistance upon release.

  1. Experience Serving Separated Children and Reunified Families

Serving Separated Children

As a long-time service provider for unaccompanied children, I note that separation of families at the U.S./Mexico border has been occurring for years in instances in which child protection concerns exist. Beginning in August 2017, however, our program began to receive a notable increase in referrals of separated children. Our staff and partners saw firsthand the terrible trauma that these children suffered after being torn away from their parents. Many of these children suffered terrible anxiety and, in some cases, developmental delays.

The President signed an Executive Order on June 20th, calling for end of family separations. Unfortunately, we are seeing that these unjust separations have not entirely halted. Take for example, the following case that USCCB/MRS learned of through our Safe Passages program:

Gloria was forced to flee Central America with her two sons, Marco, age 14, and Juan, age 9.[1] The family had been the target of extortion in their home country. After Gloria reported the extortion, the police retaliated – not only did they beat her, breaking her arm, but they also claimed she was gang affiliated. After receiving a death threat shortly thereafter, Gloria took her sons and headed to the U.S. in search of protection. She was apprehended by Border Patrol officers on June 20, 2018 and taken into custody, where she and Juan were separated from Marco. Although Juan fell ill and began to vomit, he received no medical attention. After five days in custody, she and Juan were transferred to a family detention center while Marco was deemed unaccompanied and sent into ORR care. After a brief stint in family detention, she was told that she would be separated from Juan due to her “criminal history” (the false gang affiliation claimed by the police in her home country). Despite Gloria’s attempts to explain her asylum claim and lack of criminal history, including sharing the police report she filed against the corrupt police officers, she and Juan were separated. She was given five minutes to say goodbye to her son on July 1, 2018 before he was dragged away screaming to be deemed by the U.S. government an unaccompanied child. The trauma Juan faced was compounded by the fact that he has autism, ADHD, disruptive behavior disorder, and language delays. And while the family eventually was able to reunite, it was nearly three months before they were all together again.

While the magnitude of the family separation crisis significantly lessened after the June 20th Executive Order and June 26th preliminary injunction in Ms. L., et al. v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, et al., the problem has not been solved – families like Gloria’s continue to be ripped apart unnecessarily.

Serving Separated and Reunified Families

In addition to serving unaccompanied and separated children through the Safe Passages program, from July 2nd through July 30th, USCCB/MRS worked in partnership with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) to assist both DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in their work reunifying separated families. Besides providing initial humanitarian and reunification assistance, USCCB/MRS provided access to social and legal service and case management. USCCB/MRS provided these charitable services because of our belief that such services would help support the separated families, reduce their ongoing trauma, and help ensure positive compliance outcomes.

As detailed in our joint report, “Serving Separated and Reunited Families: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward to Promote Family Unity,”[2] HHS had initially contacted USCCB/MRS on July 2nd about possible engagement with the soon to be reunited families. HHS expressed concern about the well-being of the families upon release and noted a desire to ensure that the families would have access to social services. Subsequently, on July 5th, DHS contacted both USCCB/MRS and LIRS to similarly discuss reunification operations. While neither DHS nor HHS had a clearly developed plan for reunification at the time, both departments wanted to ensure that families had support upon release.

During the reunifications, USCCB/MRS partners provided released families with immediate shelter, a hot meal, change of clothes, shower, and assistance with making travel arrangements to the reunified family’s intended destination in the United States. The two agencies served a combined 1,112 families, with USCCB/MRS and its on-the-ground partners serving 897 of these families. While serving these families was an incredibly rewarding experience, the process was not without its challenges. As an initial matter, many families were dropped off at reception sites well into the night – placing a strain not only on the staff at the sites but also adding to the families’ confusion and stress.

Coordination, both intra- and inter-agency, also appeared tenuous or lacking in many instances. For example, USCCB/MRS documented instances in which DHS’s Transportation Security Administration officers at certain airports refused to accept the families’ identification documents provided by DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. This lack of coordination resulted in newly reunited families experiencing long delays, missed flights, and additional hurdles as they sought to reach their final destinations.

Another major challenge faced by all of the USCCB/MRS reception sites was that many of the newly reunified and released families arrived at the reception centers with their immigration paperwork, such as the Notice to Appear (NTA) and the ICE check-in information, completed with the wrong address. Rather than listing their final destination, the documents would list the address of the particular reception site or the immigrant detention facility itself. Upon elevating this issue, ICE attempted to change the addresses of those families who were to be reunified and released prospectively. Some of the reception centers, however, continued to receive NTAs for families that had already moved on to their final destinations in other cities. Further, USCCB/MRS partners reported that many families faced challenges with timely filing their change of address forms and change of venue requests with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

The biggest challenge, however, has been addressing the families ongoing needs. USCCB/MRS and LIRS made the commitment to provide to each of the reunified families they served with up to three months of post-release services in their final destination cities. These services included social services, a legal orientation, and a referral to a qualified and trustworthy low or pro bono legal services provider. While not all families desired post-release services, USCCB/MRS was able to provide further assistance to nearly 700 families. Through this process, USCCB/MRS found that many of the reunited families are experiencing symptoms of trauma, including separation anxiety. Further, longer-term post-release services are clearly needed. The three months of services provided by the agencies could typically only address the families’ immediate needs in their new communities. Often, it is only at the point in which these immediate needs are addressed that families are ready to start tackling the trauma and stress from which they suffer.

 

III.      Recommendations

In light of our experience serving separated children and families, and in recognition of their ongoing trauma and vulnerabilities, we would like to share the following recommendations for the Administration and Congress.[3]

  • Rescind the Zero-Tolerance Policy. DOJ should formally rescind its April 6th memorandum on “Zero-Tolerance for Offenses Under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a).” This is not to suggest that prosecutions could never be brought for such offenses, but it would restore federal prosecutors’ ability to utilize their discretion and balance various factors when determining whether it is appropriate to bring such a case forward. At a minimum, exceptions should be explicitly made to the memorandum to address families seeking protection.
  • Absent reasonable child protection concerns, the S. government should not separate children from their parents. While there are times when separation is appropriate due to abuse or trafficking concerns, unnecessarily separating families is in direct conflict with basic child welfare principles, causes children life-long harm, and is ineffective to the goals of deterrence and safety. Separating families will not cure the pervasive root causes of migration existing in the Northern Triangle of Central America today. Factors such as community or state-sanctioned violence, poverty, lack of educational opportunity, forcible gang recruitment, and domestic abuse are compelling children and families to take the enormous risks of migration, including the possible additional risk of family separation at the border.
  • Institute Clear Criteria for “Good Cause” Separations and Require Detailed Documentation for Separations. In consultation with HHS and NGOs with relevant expertize, DHS should develop and make publicly available detailed criteria it uses to determine when it is in the best interest of a child to be separated from his or her parent or legal guardian (“good cause separations”). Further, every incidence of family separation should be clearly recorded and the explanation for separation, including specific criminal charges, should also be documented. This information needs to be readily shared and accessible to all component agencies of DHS, as well as ORR. In particular, the location of the separated family member needs to be shared with ORR at the time of the child’s referral in order to ensure prompt communication between child and parent, if appropriate. Additionally, DHS policy guidance should denote that even if family relationships are questioned, the alleged relationship must be documented.
  • Delineate Administrative Responsibility on Family Unity and An official “Family Unity” Ombudsman should be appointed to monitor future incidences of family separation. This position should be within DHS as it is the agency with the greatest visibility at the point of separation.
  • Create a Standing Interagency Task The Family Unity Ombudsman should lead the creation of an interagency task force on family separation that meets quarterly with NGO and government stakeholders. The task force should be required to provide DHS-OIG, DHS-CRCL, and Congress with annual reports on family separation that include, in part, aggregate data on family separations broken out by reason for separation, including specific category of “criminal history.” It should also be responsible for monitoring monthly reports by DHS and ORR on family separation rates and cases. In the event that that the monthly number of family separation cases increases by more than 20% from the previous month, the Family Unity Ombudsman should be required to issue a report to Congress, as well as a corresponding public press release, within 30 days. This report and press release should discuss the increase in separated families, suspected causes, and any remedial actions being taken. Finally, the task force should issue a one-time report to Congress on: (i) the number of children separated from parents or legal guardians by DHS during FY 2017 and FY 2018 prior to the court’s preliminary injunction during; (ii) the percent of such children released by ORR to category one, two, and three sponsors, respectively; and (iii) the percent of these children that received government-funded post-release services.
  • Ensure Immigration Paperwork Reflects Families’ Final Destination Cities. As a general practice, DHS should issue NTAs and other discharging immigration paperwork with a family’s final destination address, rather than the address of the reception site or the site of the immigration detention facility court. Failing to put the correct address on immigration paperwork makes it difficult for families to attempt to comply with their proceedings. In the family detention context, ICE already lists the final destination address of the individual that they release. We urge ICE to ensure that the appropriate address is listed for all arriving families.
  • Streamline Change of Address and Venue DOJ should streamline the process for non-citizens to change their address and move to change their venue for immigration hearings. EOIR should collaborate with DHS to formulate a single unified change of address form (available in Spanish and other languages) that, when submitted physically or electronically to EOIR or any ICE office or contractor, would automatically trigger an update of a noncitizens address with all relevant immigration agencies and EOIR. This unified form would streamline the process, reducing the burden for not only the noncitizen but also for DHS and EOIR.
  • Support Robust Funding for Post-Release Ser Congress should ensure, through the appropriations process, that all separated children released to parents or guardians receive post-release services from ORR to address their trauma. Further, given their ongoing needs, Congress should also ensure that federal funding is dedicated to providing additional support services to the reunified and released families.
  • Support Additional Trafficking and Trauma-Informed Training of CBP Officers. Congress should ensure, through the appropriations process, that DHS has resources to institute additional training for its Customs and Border Protection officers. These trainings should engage NGOs with relevant expertise in identification of human trafficking and in trauma-informed and child-friendly interviewing techniques.
  • Maintain Existing Protections for Unaccompanied and Accompanied Children. Congress should ensure that it maintains critical protections for all immigrant children; it should reject any legislation that seeks to alter existing safeguards relating to detention of children in unlicensed facilities and processing of unaccompanied children at the border. Immigrant children should be viewed as children first and foremost.

 

  1. Conclusion

Immigration policies implemented by our government must be humane and uphold human dignity. While our nation will never be able to rectify the life-long trauma it has inflicted upon separated families, we can and must ensure that no child or parent ever has to face unjustifiable separation again. As always, USCCB/MRS stands ready to work with the Administration and Congress to help develop policies that uphold family unity and the best interest of the child.

 

[1] Names and identifying information changed to protect client confidentiality.
[2] U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Serving Separated and Reunited Families: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward to Promote Family Unity (2018), available at https://justiceforimmigrants.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Serving-Separated-and-Reunited-Families_Final-Report-10.16.18-updated-2.pdf.
[3] Please find a full list of recommendations available in our report, “Serving Separated and Reunited Families: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward to Promote Family Unity.” Id.
2019-02-25T14:32:00-04:00News|