It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation, in such a way as to make the conditions of migrants more humane. - Pope Francis
The response of the Catholic Church to the continued arrival of Central American children and families seeking protection in the United States has been tremendous. Local dioceses and Catholic Charities programs have been on the frontlines helping to provide shelter, clothing, education, and critical legal and social services to migrant children from the moment they cross the border to their reunification with relatives across the country. While the faith-based and non-profit community continues to welcome unaccompanied children and arriving families, we can do more to assist and also must call on our local governments to respond with equal humanity and action.
There is substantial room for advocating that city and county governments step up and take action to welcome and protect unaccompanied children in our communities. Local governments can play a coordinating role helping to connect arriving children with existing community and public services. They can also adopt policies to expand access to much-needed legal representation, education, healthcare, and social services. Consider the following advocacy suggestions:
1. Create a task force
New York City created an interagency task force for city agencies to coordinate resources and formulate a citywide response to the rising number of unaccompanied minors coming to live in the area. The goals of the task force are to target outreach to schools and neighborhood with large Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran populations and provide information to families about school and health insurance enrollment, legal screenings and referrals.
2. Pass a resolution of welcome
The City Council of Columbia, South Carolina adopted a resolution welcoming every refugee child and unaccompanied immigrant child released to sponsors within the community. The resolution also calls on local, state, and federal leaders to work together to address the current child refugee crisis by immediately adopting comprehensive immigration reform.
3. Conduct community outreach
The New York City Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs has teamed up with the city’s Department of Education and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to provide direct services to children and families at the federal Immigration Court. Each day, during the court’s juvenile docket, city representatives are available to assist children and their guardians with school enrollment and English language programs, and enroll children in the state-funded public health insurance program.
4. Connect children with existing services
Cities and counties can play a coordinating or clearinghouse role in connecting service providers with children in need. The state of Maryland launched a bilingual website called “Buscando Maryland” which allows visitors to search by zip code for organizations that provide food, clothing, language, transportation, legal services, medical care, education, religious services, counseling, and recreation. This type of resource could be replicated at a city or county level.
5. Fund additional services
In response to community advocacy, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance providing $2.1 million over the next two years to fund non-profit organizations to represent unaccompanied children and families on the San Francisco Immigration Court's expedited removal docket. City funding initiatives for legal services can also be collaborative efforts with philanthropists, as in the case of a recent $1.9 million joint initiative of the New York City Council, the Robin Hood Foundation, and the New York Community Trust.
6. Issue a call to action
In addition to taking actions themselves, city and county leaders can call on various constituents to volunteer time, donate money, or otherwise come to the assistance of unaccompanied children. For example, the Attorney General of California has asked a number of large law firms to dedicate pro bono hours to represent children in their immigration proceedings. The Mayor of Davenport, Iowa has announced his support for the state’s Caring Cities Campaign and called on city residents and social service agencies to provide housing for some of the children.