Unaccompanied Children at the U.S.-Mexico Border
Nearly 60,000 children have arrived at the U.S. border and more are coming. The journeys these children take are extremely dangerous, making them vulnerable to violence, rape, and exploitation. In most cases, the children have fled relentless violence and hopelessness in search of a safe place and a better life. The Jewish community has come together to send a strong message to Congress that the safety and well-being of these children must be at the heart of every policy decision made in response to this situation.
Before leaving for recess, the House and Senate both considered emergency funding proposals to help meet the needs of unaccompanied children. The Senate legislation, S. 2648, introduced by Senator Mikulski (D-MD), would provide $2.7 billion to government agencies. This is a particularly strong proposal because it includes $1.2 billion to address the dire shortfall in funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the government agency responsible for serving unaccompanied children as well as refugees, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable populations. However, this legislation failed to proceed on a procedural vote.
When elected officials hear from their constituents, they act accordingly. During the month of August, Members of Congress are on recess in their home states and districts. This presents a great opportunity for advocates—like you—to reach out to elected officials and communicate issues that are important to constituents in their states and districts. Here are some ways you can communicate with your Members of Congress during the August recess:
Meet with Congressional Offices
One of the most effective ways to influence legislators is to meet with them in person or to meet with staff at their state and district offices. For these meetings, it is best to convene a powerful group of advocates such as faith and community leaders, social service providers, local business owners, and immigrants and refugees themselves. If possible, you should try to integrate a personal story into your talking points. For instance, one of the participants could share a personal story about the local impact of reprogrammed funding for refugee services.
Call and/or Write to Your Legislators
When calling or writing to your elected officials, keep your points clear and concise. Include some background information about why you care about this issue and the specific action(s) you want the legislators to take. Make sure to reach out to the offices of your two Senators as well as your Representative. When you call or write to each office, specify that you are a constituent, as well as your name and your role in the community (i.e. faith leader, organizer, student leader, congregant, etc.).
Participate in Town Halls
Many legislators will hold local Town Hall events during August recess. Open to the public, these meetings are intended for Members of Congress to hear directly from their constituents about key issues. These events also present opportunities for community leaders and advocates—like you—to ask questions about where legislators stand regarding the U.S. government’s response to unaccompanied children fleeing Central America.
Utilize Social Media
Engaging on social media can allow you to to amplify your voice, send a strong message to legislators, and educate others about complex issues. Here are some sample posts for you to directly urge your elected officials to show leadership in responding to the surge in unaccompanied children while maintaining our country’s commitment to helping asylum seekers and refugees. Make sure to look up your legislators’ accounts so that you can tag them directly:
- @[legislator] Please increase FY 14 funding for ORR by $1.2 billion so we can meet the needs of #UACs & #refugees. #ChildrenOnTheRun
- @[legislator] As your constituent, I urge you to increase funding for ORR by $1.2 billion ASAP & maintain important protections for kids
- @[legislator] When you return to DC, Congress must pass a clean supplemental bill & maintain due process 4 #unaccompaniedchildren
- Congress must move quickly to approve Senator Mikulski’s (D-MD) proposal for emergency funding for unaccompanied children, which includes $1.2 billion to allow the Office of Refugee Resettlement to adequately fund refugee services and the surge in unaccompanied children. The current humanitarian situation must not curb our ability to resettle refugees fleeing Iraq, Syria, Burma, Sudan, and elsewhere who have been generously offered protection by the U.S.
- The U.S. government must ensure that everyone in danger of persecution—particularly unaccompanied children—is given a meaningful opportunity to seek asylum under U.S. law.
- The right to family unity has long been a cornerstone of U.S. refugee policy—the U.S. should consider offering humanitarian parole or other relief to these children, which would open family unity and refugee processing channels south of our border while undercutting smugglers.
- As a global humanitarian leader, the U.S. must maintain practices in accordance with international refugee law and American principles of due process—the rest of the world is watching and we must set a good example.
Border Problem, Beltway Crisis, op-ed by Mark Hetfield, Huffington Post, 8/07/2014
A Jewish Call to Fair Treatment for All Children, op-ed by Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Washington Jewish Week, 7/30/2014
Welcome the Stranger, Baltimore Jewish Times, 7/24/2014
A Dangerous Summer for Central American Kids, op-ed by Mark Hetfield, Huffington Post, 7/27/2014