The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
UUSC Statement on Children Seeking Safe Refuge at the U.S. Border
July 30, 2014
In recent weeks, nearly 60,000 children — some as young as three years old — have come to the United States after fleeing extreme violence and conflict in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. It is projected that at least 90,000 will enter by the end of 2014. UUSC joins with policy makers, faith leaders, and concerned citizens to call for a humane and compassionate response to the needs of these vulnerable children and teenagers.
The children arriving in the United States travel up to 1,000 miles to seek sanctuary. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees has found that at least 58 percent of these children were “forcibly displaced” due to extreme violence of “organized armed criminal actors” and that 48 percent had experienced this violence personally.
The sheer number of displaced children at this time is dramatic, but it is by no means a new issue. On average the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for caring for 7,000–8,000 unaccompanied children each year. If they have family in the United States, the children are generally released and placed with a family member within two days of arrival to await a court date. But now, due to the large influx of displaced children, many are being held for 10–20 days in adult facilities — including the infamous “iceboxes” along the border — and are then being moved en masse to locations throughout the United States.
Many of these children are alone, and many are asylum seekers. Under international and domestic law, the U.S. government has a duty to protect this vulnerable population. UUSC believes that it goes beyond legal duty — it is a moral duty. And it is one that the United States has rightfully stepped up to before: 402,382 Vietnamese people were given refuge in the United States after the Vietnam War, and more than one million Cubans have entered the United States as political refugees. It is unconscionable to ignore the needs of the children currently seeking safety in this country.
UUSC encourages policy makers to respond swiftly and with compassion and to take the following under advisement:
- This is not an immigration enforcement issue. These are displaced children fleeing violence and seeking refuge.
- Children entering the United States should be treated with dignity and respect and provided with comprehensive care.
- Many of these children are seeking asylum and should be offered what they are entitled to through international law: humane detention facilities, access to legal assistance, and relief services
- The root causes of this crisis must be addressed, including the role U.S. policies play in continuing trends of impoverishment, grave inequalities, and violence in the children’s home countries.
UUSC applauds the efforts of the Obama administration, governors who have provided shelter in their states, and the faith and community groups that are providing services — including food, shelter, transportation, and legal support — to these children. UUSC also encourages others to join their efforts.
As this situation continues, UUSC commits to pursue the following:
- Investigate the legal needs of displaced children and determine how UUSC can help ensure their rights are honored as they work their way through the U.S. legal system
- Urge UUSC members to call upon Washington policy makers to provide the necessary financial resources to respond to these children’s needs
- Lift up the nonpartisan moral and ethical dimensions of this situation and highlight the obligation to respect the inherent worth and dignity of all children