Our faith traditions call us to serve our communities...to care for the least of our brothers and sisters...to love our neighbors. But the needs can seem overwhelming and it can be hard to get started. Better Neighbors is a monthly toolkit to help you and your congregation make a difference in your local community. Each month we focus on one area of need, giving you practical steps to take action and learn more. Better Neighbors is a project of Texas Impact, Texas' oldest and largest statewide interfaith network.
Children of Forced Migration
The number of asylum seekers, refugees, and others displaced from their homes around the world is the highest it has been since the end of World War II. In addition, there are more people trapped in slavery now than ever before in human history. Research by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees indicates that more than half of the victims of forced migration are children. This edition of Better Neighbors will focus on children who are forced to flee to Texas, or who are trafficked here against their will.
To qualify for refugee resettlement in the United States, families and individuals must have fled their home country because of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in certain groups. The application process for resettlement can take 18 to 24 months.
Texas has resettled more refugees this year than any other state, and children account for 35 to 40 percent of all refugees who are placed in the U.S. For some countries, the percentage of young children is especially high: about 47 percent of Syrian refugees who arrived in the U.S. this year were younger than 14. Nearly all of these child refugees arrive in the U.S. together with their parents. Children who do not have a family member or sponsor to support them receive foster care through the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program.
Unaccompanied Children from Central America
In recent years, heightened violence in Central America has forced many children to flee to the United States. Since October 2013, the Border Patrol has encountered over 140,000 unaccompanied minors at the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Most of these children have arrived from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. In 2016, an average of 150 unaccompanied children have come to the U.S. every day.
These children generally enter the United States by crossing the Rio Grande into Texas. After being transferred to an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelter, the majority of them are placed with family members and other sponsors across the U.S. In 2014, RAICES provided legal support to the children kept at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base. They found that of 925 children taken in, “‘[at least] 63 percent or 583 of these children are likely to be found eligible for relief by a U.S. Immigration Judge,’” said Jonathan Ryan, RAICES’s executive director. However, because they are not guaranteed legal representation, securing relief from deportation can be difficult.
Children and Families in Detention
Not all children who are escaping life-threatening violence in Central America travel alone; some come to the United States with a parent. Children who arrive with their mother risk being placed in family detention, a prison-like environment run by for-profit prison companies. Two of the three family detention centers in the U.S. are in Texas.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services states: “there is no way to humanely detain families.” Detention can cause physical and mental harm in children, with effects like anxiety, depression, and cognitive repercussions. It also places stress on relationships within the family. Due to recent legal developments, the future of family detention is uncertain.
Photo 1: "Syria 1, Emergencies 6" by Eoghan Rice used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Children Trafficking Victims
Worldwide, 5.5 million children are victims of human trafficking. In the U.S., children who run away from home are especially at risk of being trafficked. In 2015, an estimated 1 in 5 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely sex trafficking victims. Victims may be recruited at school, via social media, or at homeless shelters. Other child trafficking victims include girls traveling to the U.S.; their smugglers may force them to work in the sex trade or in domestic settings in exchange for ‘free’ travel.
Human trafficking is an especially large problem in our state. So far this year, Texas ranks second in the number of trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline. Call the hotline if you become aware of a potential human trafficking situation. The number is easy to remember: (1-888-3737-888). The calls are confidential, and will let local authorities and social service providers know about the situation. However, if someone is in immediate danger, the number to call first is 911, followed by the hotline.
Understanding Texas Government: Policies, Agencies and Resources
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)
The ORR, an office of the federal Administration for Children and Families, provides benefits and services to eligible people from the following groups: refugees, asylees, Cuban/Haitian entrants, Special Immigrant Visa holders, Amerasians, and victims of human trafficking. ORR, through the Division of Children’s Services (DCS), also provides care and placement for unaccompanied children who enter the U.S. from other countries without an adult guardian.
ORR has five divisions: Refugee Assistance; Refugee Health; Resettlement Services; Children’s Services (includes Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program); and the Office of the Director (includes the Budget Data Analysis Unit, Policy and Repatriation).
To learn more about ORR and its programs and services, visit: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/about/what-we-do.
The Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs (OIRA)
In 1991, the Texas Legislature created OIRA, the administrator of our state’s Refugee Resettlement Program, to distribute federal funds available through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Refugee Act of 1980. These funds are disseminated through the U.S. Department of Health, the Administration for Children and Families, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Texas receives approximately 4,500 refugees every year. The Refugee Resettlement Program is an all-nationalities program and serves eligible refugees, asylees, entrants and parolees from Cuba and Haiti, Special Immigrant Visa holders from Iraq and Afghanistan, and certified victims of severe forms of trafficking. The program provides: temporary cash assistance; medical assistance; and social services.
For more details about OIRA and its programs and services, visit: http://www.hhsc.state.tx.us/programs/refugee/.
Voluntary Agencies (VOLAGs)
While other governmental agencies provide important services and programs for refugees, asylees, and other vulnerable groups of people, the actual resettlement of refugees into local communities is conducted by local voluntary resettlement agencies, or VOLAGs. The U.S. State Department works with VOLAGs to place refugees throughout the U.S., and once a refugee is assigned to a VOLAG and resettled in Texas, the Texas Human Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) works with these local organizations to provide a variety of services to refugees, asylees, and others depending on their needs. A number of these Texas VOLAGs are faith-based and engage local communities in myriad and significant ways. To learn which VOLAGs operate in our state and find links to their respective sites, visit: http://www.hhsc.state.tx.us/programs/refugee/volags.shtml.
Organizational Spotlight: Refugee Services of Texas
Founded in 1978, Refugee Services of Texas (RST) is a social service agency dedicated to resettling and providing services to refugees and other displaced persons fleeing persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of particular social group, and/or political opinion. RST has successfully resettled more than 15,000 refugees since its inception. Through the agency’s home office in Dallas, RST provides services to refugees, asylees, and survivors of human trafficking from over thirty different countries of origin with service centers in Fort Worth, Austin, Amarillo, Dallas, and Houston. The majority of RST’s clientele come from Burma, Bhutan, Iraq, The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, and Somalia.
RST’s five service centers have programs uniquely designed to assist these vulnerable populations and help them gain self-sufficiency as quickly as possible. In addition, the programs are tailored to meet the needs of the host communities as they welcome these newcomers. These programs include: resettlement services; services for unaccompanied children (UAC); legal services; Survivors of Trafficking Empowerment Program (STEP); jobs readiness training and employment; social adjustment services; medical case management; English language training; and counseling.
To learn more about RST’s mission, programs and volunteer opportunities, visit: http://www.rstx.org/volunteer.html.
Learn where VOLAGs are located in and around your community from HHSC.
Develop a deeper knowledge of different types of forced migration. To better understand each, consider using the following resources:
Children in Detention:
Child Trafficking Victims:
Many VOLAGs and other refugee service organizations offer a number of volunteer opportunities for both individuals and groups. Some of these may include activities like:
As a faith community, consider sponsoring a refugee family. Follow each step of the resettlement process, from picking them up at the airport to celebrating their completion of the resettlement program. This is possible through various VOLAGs and organizations across the state.
Conduct a donation drive in your community. Collect basic house wares, school supplies, or other items for newly arrived families. Also consider doing the same for mothers and children in detention, though they may need different items.
Invite a representative of a local refugee services organization to speak to your congregation. Ask them to share experiences and stories from their work.
Are there low-income families in your neighborhood or city in need of health benefits and food assistance? Is your congregation interested in being more involved in the community and helping families find public services?
If so, the Community Partner Program is a great opportunity for you!
Texans can apply online for public benefits such as health care (Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program [CHIP]), cash assistance (TANF), and food assistance (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) through YourTexasBenefits.com, the online application portal hosted by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC).
Recognizing that many low-income families do not have Internet access or might need additional help, the Community Partner Program is a state initiative where HHSC will provide training and other support to your congregation so they can assist low-income families applying for benefits on YourTexasBenefits.com.
HHSC’s Community Partner Recruitment Initiative (CPRI) staff provides information about CPP to faith and other local nonprofit organizations Community Partner Program and can help you join the program. For example, Texas Impact is part of CPRI and has a team of AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers in offices throughout Texas who would love the opportunity to come speak about the program with your faith group or lead a presentation or event for the local community at your organization.
Better Neighbors provides information on a different public policy issue with local implications every month. In addition to the newsletter, you will also have other opportunities to engage around the monthly focus through webinars, phone calls, and in-person events throughout the state.
In July, we invite you to the following opportunity to learn more about the children of forced migration:
We encourage you to share this information with people in your network. For more information, contact Congregational Outreach Director Scott Atnip.
TEXAS IMPACT MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): Bluebonnet Area, Southwest Region, Trinity- Brazos Area • Episcopal Church: Diocese of West Texas, Diocese of Fort Worth • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA): Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod, Southwestern Texas Synod, Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Mission Presbytery, Palo Duro Presbytery, Tres Rios Presbytery • United Methodist Church: Central Texas Conference, North Texas Conference, Northwest Texas Conference, Rio Texas Conference, Texas Conference • Methodist Federation for Social Action: Rio Texas Chapter, Central Texas Chapter • United Church of Christ: South Central Conference • Society of Friends: South Central Yearly Meeting • Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry • Church Women United • United Methodist Women • CitySquare • Dominican Sisters of Houston • Interfaith Action of Central Texas • Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston • Islamic Circle of North America • Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas • National Council of Jewish Women • North Texas Islamic Council • Socially Responsible Investment Coalition • Tarrant Churches Together • Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation • Union Baptist Fellowship
President-Reverend Dr. Whitney Bodman | Vice President-Richard Ertel | Secretary-Amanda Quraishi