by Patricia Zapor
WASHINGTON (CNS) – With six weeks of steady reporting about the influx of Central American children and families crossing the U.S. border and no quick solutions being presented for what will happen to them, many people are asking their churches and dioceses what they can do to help.
Unlike what would happen if a natural disaster generated a similar flow of migrants – more than 57,000 children on their own and 39,000 families since the beginning of the fiscal year in October – these people are at least temporarily the responsibility of the federal government, because they were apprehended by or turned themselves in to the Border Patrol.
In the short term, that ensures that the migrants’ immediate needs for shelter, medical care and food are being met, even if that sometimes is under less-than-desirable conditions, such as Border Patrol warehouses designed to hold adults for a few hours at most. But it also creates extra layers of procedure that complicate how people who want to help can do so.
For example, organizations that have attempted to provide various kinds of assistance in the Border Patrol’s temporary holding areas have been rebuffed in several parts of the country, told that security concerns make any kind of outside efforts unwelcome. Children who arrive alone are required by federal law to be cared for by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement under Health and Human Services, which manages their care after the Border Patrol initially processes them.
At a panel discussion during the National Migration Conference in Washington, D.C., some of the possible ways volunteers, financial donations and other types of resources might be put to use were outlined by representatives of Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
At the institutional level, the agencies are involved in efforts including: helping find housing, pressuring Congress to fully fund appropriations to cover the costs of caring for the migrants and for a range of services including legal assistance and boosting staffing for processing deportation cases and asylum claims.
The panelists raised possibilities for how the public can help, among them:
• MRS shared two resource papers with ideas and contact information for how to provide hospitality and other types of assistance. They may be found here: http://tinyurl.com/p5gvo5x and http://tinyurl.com/mqwfybv.
• Programs such as those in place in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, which has been offering respite and short-term shelter for families who have been processed by the Border Patrol, given orders to appear for deportation proceedings and released, typically at urban bus stations.
Local Catholic community services agencies should have information about what, if any, efforts are underway locally. Nationally, Catholic Charities USA is accepting donations through its website, www.catholiccharitiesusa.org, to support its migrant-related disaster relief efforts, which operate through local agencies.
Katie Oldaker, disaster services director for Catholic Charities USA, said the type of volunteer help needed ranges from counselors to “someone to smile, welcome them, and say ‘we’ll take care of you.’”
Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas, has information on its web page about what kinds of help it needs for its migrant assistance center. It is collaborating with the local community food bank to gather and distribute specific needed items, for example. For information, visit http://sacredheartchurch-mcallen.org/immigrant-assistance.
• Efforts to open housing in places such as dormitories, camps and private residences, for families under detention and unaccompanied minors.
The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, known as ORR, is legally required to care for unaccompanied minors until they can be placed with a family member or in some type of a foster care setting.