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November 23rd

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Update on LSS Border Programs & Initiatives

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ORR kidsELCA’S ASSISTANCE FOR UNACCOMPANIED MINORS  [parts of this story are excerpted from ELCA.org]

Background on LSS ORR programs:

LSS has provided emergency shelter for hundreds of unaccompanied children in South Texas since 2006, at Bokenkamp Emergency Shelter in Corpus Christi and our foster care program in El Paso. These children are termed “unaccompanied” because they cross the border without parents or legal guardians, although the majority do have family in the U.S. and are coming to join them. These minors are escaping situations in their own countries that include civil wars, extreme poverty, and pervasive gang violence.

Rather than being deported like children from Mexico—who cross in the same numbers and for similar reasons—Central American minors are turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which holds them in designated facilities and provides them with services while locating and investigating the whereabouts of their family members.

This past spring and summer, the news of unprecedented numbers of children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala crossing the U.S. border was reported as a “surge” and a “crisis” and indeed, the demand for our services was urgent and pressing. In response, LSS’ ORR resettlement programs expanded dramatically to include New Hope Emergency Shelter in McAllen and ORR foster care in Corpus Christi.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) provided nearly $400,000 in humanitarian assistance to help support ELCA partners serving these thousands of unaccompanied children. The funds were disbursed through LSS, Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).  ELCA funds supported LSS’ expansion, providing the first-year salary and expenses for a local project manager, administrative overhead and program management.

Is the “surge” over?

While the crisis of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border has faded from the news in recent months, the thousands of kids who came across the border still need food and housing. The immigration courts remain backlogged. The crisis isn’t over, but it’s a different one than policymakers originally imagined. The focus has shifted from border security and stopping the flow of unaccompanied minors, to helping the ones who are already here.

Rev. Michael Stadie, program director for the ELCA’s Lutheran Disaster Response U.S., explains it like this: “Although the number of children coming to this country has decreased, they are still coming. Our grants to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Lutheran Social Services of the South will help address the unmet needs of the children who are not covered by the government, as well as help encourage congregations and individuals to also address these needs.”

ELCA funds will also help provide for planning among Lutheran partners in the U.S. and Central America, training materials for potential foster families, the development of welcome centers offering hospitality and support to families and others released from immigration detention centers, advocacy and strategic communications and national coordination.

Lutherans on the scene

“One of the untold stories of what the media called the border crisis was that Lutherans were already on the scene,” said Linda Hartke, president of LIRS. “LIRS and our partners have been helping unaccompanied children and families seeking refuge for decades.

“When the number of children and families (arriving in the U.S.) increased to unprecedented levels, we worked proactively to address programmatic and advocacy needs. The generous grant from ELCA’s Lutheran Disaster Response enables LIRS to extend critical protections and services and to engage more volunteers. Most of all, the grant demonstrates that Lutherans are in this for the long haul. If even one unaccompanied child is in need of refuge, we will be there,” said Hartke.

“Lutheran Disaster Response and LSS share a long history of partnership in service to those who are in need,” said Mark Minick, senior vice president for external relations for LSS and Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response (LSSDR).

“We are thankful to now expand and strengthen that partnership by providing healing and hope to children and families in new ways. Among other roles, this work together provides an on-the-ground presence to assist with volunteer needs and roles, organizing of resources and spiritual care activities, and collaboration and coordination of regional, national and international efforts of Lutheran partners and other response agencies,” said Minick. “We are grateful to Lutheran Disaster Response and the ELCA for the opportunity to positively impact the lives of God’s children, often coming from such dire circumstances.”

To learn more about LSS’ Disaster Response program, please visit www.lssdisasterresponse.org.

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