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Over 150 clergy and faith leaders sign statement supporting children fleeing violence

August 2nd, 2014

OTOC leaders have drafted and begun circulating  a statement in support of children who are fleeing to our borders due to violence in their home countries. Now, in less than a week,  over 150 leaders including 90 clergy, women religious or heads of faith based organizations have signed the statement of support. OTOC will work with our allies to continue circulating a  statement of support for refugee youth in congregations and community organizations throughout the state so that our federal legislators understand that Nebraskans want the refugee children to be treated humanely and receive due process in our immigration courts.

Statement Supporting Children Fleeing Violence
“We are distressed by the cries of the young mothers, children and adolescents who have risked their lives to flee terrible violence and now are seeking safety in our state. This situation demands we act in accordance with our best values of compassion, and humanity. Nebraskans are good people and good neighbors who value peace and protection for vulnerable children who have fled terrible violence.

“Lashing out against these children violates our integrity as a nation and as people of faith: ‘… show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.’ (Zechariah 7:9-10.)

“We take seriously our government’s concerns for national security and the orderly control of immigration affairs. However, the solution does not lie in punishing the children. We must welcome our brothers and sisters seeking safety and ensure they receive the proper screening, protection, and legal counsel that our laws demand as well as the peaceful protections commanded by our faith.”

To sign on in support of this statement, please go to the top right of the OTOC Home Page and click on the yellow tab entitled “Children Fleeing Violence”

To obtain a copy of this statement which you can circulate to other faith leaders, click on the link below:

Children Fleeing Violence Statement and Sign On Form

OTOC has also signed on to several principles developed by 13 Nebraska service and advocacy organizations about how the federal and state government should respond to this humanitarian crisis. Those principles are below:

Principles for treating humanely the children who are fleeing to our borders

Increase funding to relevant federal agencies to ensure adequate resources are available
for proper screening, placement, and services. Congress should make certain there are a
sufficient number of properly trained officials or child welfare professionals – with experience in
dealing with traumatized children – who have necessary legal training to ensure there are
individualized determinations for all children seeking humanitarian and legal relief.

Preserve legal and due process protections in the bipartisan Trafficking Victims
Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, and reject proposals to circumvent
these protections that would expedite the removal of children, many of whom could have
asylum or legal relief claims. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 60 percent of children could be available for humanitarian
protection. Any bill from Congress that seeks to eliminate these protections jeopardizes the lives
of vulnerable children seeking safe refuge in the United States. Children who have just endured
a traumatic journey to the United States are particularly vulnerable and should not undergo an
accelerated and cursory screening process by Border Patrol agents, who will likely have little to
no legal training to identify asylum and refugee claims.

Provide sufficient legal resources that guarantee children have access to an attorney to
represent them. It is critical to ensure that the children’s best interests are fully represented
since many, if not all, children won’t understand their rights or the legal process, and may be
fearful or embarrassed to tell their story to a court. Therefore, it is important that children have
an access to an attorney. Congress should also devote funding to increase the number of
judges and asylum officers to reduce the backlog for children currently in immigration
proceedings and status-determination hearings.

Children should be placed into community-based settings whenever possible with parents,
relatives, or other suitable sponsors, instead of detention facilities. If community-based care is
not available, then children should be placed in proper settings that adequately provide for their
needs. Therefore, funding for additional detention facilities should not be a priority because they
are not the preferred setting for children.

Incorporate a best interests of the child standard in all proceedings and decisions. This
would guarantee that the child’s best interests is the primary factor in all decisions related to the
child’s health, safety, and care, along with considerations regarding humanitarian relief.

Develop policies and provide assistance to address the violence and insecurity in
Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Such reforms and initiatives should invest in systems
that will improve safety conditions and establish productive opportunities for children in these
countries.

These principles were endorsed by:
ACLU of Nebraska, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Center for People in Need
Creighton Center for Service and Justice, Inclusive Communities, Justice for Our Neighbors-Nebraska
Latino American Commission, Latino Center of the Midlands, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska
Nebraska Appleseed, The Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS) at the University of Nebraska Omaha,Omaha Together One Community, Unity in Action

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