The dramatic increase in unaccompanied minor children fleeing their homelands for safety in the United States has sparked political and humanitarian concerns. Best information indicates more than half of these children are seeking reunification with family members. Two-thirds are escaping violence and other threatening situations that are grounds for relief under standard immigration rules.
This current situation requires a multi-faceted approach: a humanitarian response to the plight of threatened children in the best tradition of our country; sound policies that respect individual rights and ensure a safe and secure border; and an effective system to adjudicate claims in a timely, humane and fair manner.
Providing humanitarian help stands among the finest traditions of our nation. It is a requirement of the human trafficking law reauthorized and expanded by Congress in 2008 that enables vulnerable children to receive immigration support and care in their best interest.
At Catholic Charities we have longstanding, comprehensive knowledge of the humanitarian plight faced by immigrants including unaccompanied minor children. For more than a century we have served newcomers from more than 100 countries of all religions with legal, educational and social services.
Now, every week in residences for unaccompanied youth in the New York area, Catholic Charities’ team of lawyers and paralegals provides legal and social services to unaccompanied children. We have met with nearly 2,000 children in the last year alone, work with more than 70 sponsors of released children each month and also provide individual legal representation to children released from New York area shelters, a central step in their integration into their communities.
Catholic Charities New York also recently helped found Terra Firma, an innovative medical-legal partnership designed to meet the complex medical, psycho-social, and legal needs of unaccompanied minors.
This gives us first-hand knowledge of the trauma these vulnerable children face. Catholic Charities has witnessed how deportation can be a far worse punishment than most criminal penalties, one that can mean the loss of family, home and security. It is imperative to determine the rights U.S. immigration affords these children and ensure their claims receive a fair hearing. Proposals to establish processing systems to review claims in Central American countries merit serious consideration to reduce risks faced by unaccompanied minors and other aspects of this humanitarian crisis.
The current crisis is another example of the need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform that addresses a fair and humane legal immigration system; secures the border; prioritizes reunification of families and provides for those living in the shadows a system to earn their way toward legalization.