By Alaide Vilchis Ibarra, Assistant Director for Migration Policy
UPDATE: The Department of Homeland Security has continued to target Central American children and families for deportation since January. On May 12, 2016, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that they plan to strengthen the efforts to detain and deport vulnerable children and families in May and June. Although further information has not been released, as a church, we continue to stand with the churches and organizations we accompany in the protection of children, families and all vulnerable communities in Central America.
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This month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began operations to track and deport Central American families that arrived in the U.S. after January 1, 2014. We know that at least 121 individuals have been taken into custody and reports have surfaced of children being pulled out of homes in the middle of the night.
As a church grounded in Biblical mandate to respect the human dignity of all of God’s creatures, we stand strongly against prioritizing vulnerable children and their mothers for deportation. These tactics neither honor our faithful calling to love one another nor respect the dignity of our neighbors.
Additionally, we join Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) in our concern for ensuring access to justice in the U.S. for these families who must navigate a complex legal system, often without necessary support. This December, our own presiding bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, witnessed first-hand the uncertainty and stress faced by children and families in Chicago’s immigration court.
The ELCA lives out God’s calling to send us into the world by accompanying displaced children and families in the U.S. and in Central America through our companion relationships with churches and faith partners. Through these relationships, we receive critical insight into the realities faced by children and families who are forced to leave their communities due to targeted violence (as outlined in our report, Our Communities in Crisis).
Today, violence in countries where these children and families targeted by DHS will be deported to remains unbearably high. El Salvador is currently facing murder rates not seen since its civil war in the 1980s. The Salvadoran Lutheran Church recently reported seeing up to 30 families displaced in one neighborhood over the course of only a few days. Honduras continues to have some of the highest murder rates in the world, and in Guatemala, the United Nations reports that two women are killed each day.
As a church with faith partners working with deported children and families in El Salvador and Honduras, we know that deportation does not serve to deter children and families from leaving their communities.
In a statement from the Mennonite Social Action Committee (CASM), an ELCA partner working in a repatriation center for children and families in Honduras, they explain that “during this process of receiving deported [children and families], we have witnessed the harsh reality that [deportation] brings for these people and their families. [Families] have to come back to the same realities of extreme poverty, lack of opportunities, violence and lack of citizen security that led them to leave the country in the first place.”
Through our relationships in Central America and because of our church’s history that is deeply rooted in migration, we will continue to support our partners in the region and in the U.S. through witness, accompaniment, prayer and advocacy.
“We must advocate with our governments and authorities for the humane treatment [of migrants], and to launch fair processes for people who should be welcomed as asylum seekers, not for political reasons, but for their safety and security.” said Bishop Medardo Gomez from the Salvadoran Lutheran Church in a call to acknowledge the rights and vulnerabilities of those fleeing Central America today.
Our partner, Church World Service, suggests the following resources to respond to this issue:
Know Your Rights
If you are tied to immigrant led congregations, it is imperative to educate all immigrant communities on know your rights resources. The most important information is DON’T OPEN THE DOOR to Immigration Customs Enforcement or anyone else if they do not have a warrant signed by a judge.
Report When A Raid Is Happening:
TEXT ALERTS WATCH ICE: 877877
Call the White House
White House Comment Line directly at 1-888-907-2053.
“I’m from City, State, Congregation/Community and as a person of faith, I urge President Obama to immediately STOP plans to deport Central American children and families. These individuals are fleeing violence and should have access to legal counsel so that they can apply for asylum and protection in the United States.”