by John Allured
In the fiscal year ended September 30, 2016, 530,250 individuals were apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security: of those, 59,757 were unaccompanied children (“UAC”) and 77,857 were family units. This was just one of several years in which large numbers of persons have fled violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to seek asylum in the United States. After a person is apprehended, he or she is either detained or released. Under federal law, UAC are released to a “sponsor,” either a (1) parent, (2) legal guardian, (3) adult relative, (4) adult individual or entity designated by a parent or legal guardian, (5) a licensed program willing to accept legal custody, or (6) an adult or entity approved by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
Usually, a person who has been apprehended is placed into removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge, where an application for asylum (or other relief from removal) is determined. Although removal proceedings involve only two hearings (excluding continuances, motions, and such), it can now take three to four years for a case to be resolved, even before appeals. During the time that a removal case is pending, a UAC remains under the jurisdiction of the Immigration Court and must be supported by his or her sponsor. The sponsor is responsible for providing (or arranging for) food and housing, medical care, education, transportation, and the other ordinary needs of a young person. And because it is important for the UAC to show “good character,” the sponsor should help the UAC avoid any criminal activity (even minor offenses), find community involvement, and, in general, live an upstanding life.
This presents UAC and their sponsors with considerable challenges. To help address this, the ELCA has undertaken the AMMPARO project – Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities. (For more information, please visit this website )
With regard to an UAC in removal proceedings, church members and congregations can accompany in several ways. First, individuals or congregations may apply to serve as sponsors of a UAC. While this involves considerable responsibilities, it is vitally important for sponsors to be available to UAC.
Second, even if not serving as sponsors, individuals and congregations may support sponsors — and the UAC themselves. Family member-sponsors or others may themselves have limited resources and so may be hardpressed to provide the complete support that an UAC requires and deserves. Hence, working alone or in small teams, individuals may help with food and housing, transportation, or the like. Even companionship and friendship can be a valuable contribution.
Third, individuals and congregations may offer financial support. An UAC and/or his or her sponsor might need financial assistance. In addition, preparing an application for asylum requires payment for
expert witnesses, interpreters, and other litigation expenses, and if a UAC cannot find legal representation on a pro bono basis, the UAC must either hire an attorney or go without. Not surprisingly, the presence of competent counsel itself can make the difference between gaining asylum and being deported.
These are just a few examples of the ways in which ELCA members can help. First Lutheran has chosen to designate itself as a Welcoming Congregation within the AMMPARO project, and so we as a church have the opportunity to be a “leader” in this effort.
The need is great, and the time is now. Please consider how you might make a difference in the life of a young person. For further information or assistance in becoming engaged, please contact Joe Haletky or John Allured.