Samaritas Statement on U.S. Zero Tolerance Deterrent Policy
Current news reports are filled with stories about the enforcement and results of the U.S. Zero Tolerance Deterrent Policy. The children affected in this situation, including those who have been separated from parents, are ones Samaritas often serves through our Refugee Foster Care (also known and Unaccompanied Refugee Minors) program. In fact, Samaritas is one of only two resettlement agencies in Michigan that does so. Samaritas’ goal for these children is not to find them new homes through formal adoption, but rather to reunify them with their own families.
Our laws protect the right to seek asylum. If someone arrives at our border asking for asylum or expressing fear of returning to the country of origin, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents are required to refer that person to an asylum officer. These children and families are fleeing their homes seeking protection from violence, because their lives are at risk. We know the safest place for children is with their families and, if that is not possible, in communities that care for them and can ensure their safety and representation.
Children who are considered “unaccompanied,” either because they arrived alone or because they are separated from their parents, are transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Once in ORR custody, unaccompanied children are screened for protection concerns and are placed with a contract agency within 72 hours.That is where Samaritas comes in as a contract agency. We help secure safe placement for these unaccompanied children, either in temporary foster homes or in a group home setting, where we connect them with resources for their social, medical, psychological, and legal needs. Often, a congregation or community group will serve as mentors for these youth.
On April 26, 2018, an official with ORR—the office responsible for the care and custody of unaccompanied children, including children who may have been separated from their parents at the border—testified that in its follow-up calls between October and December 2017 to more than 7,600 sponsors with whom children had been placed, the agency could not determine the whereabouts of 1,475 children. This does not mean that the children were lost while in government custody, but rather, that the government could not confirm their whereabouts or reach a representative by phone during the period in which the calls were placed. While the number is not specifically linked to family separation, and it dates from 2017, before the current administration’s zero-tolerance policy was announced, current policies dictate that it is more important than ever that organizations like Samaritas, who ensure the safety and well-being of the unaccompanied refugees minors, are equipped to do so.
Our Own Zero Tolerance Policy, and How You Can Help
Samaritas, one of the largest faith-based nonprofits in Michigan that has been serving people as an expression of the love of Christ since 1934, needs your help to help these children who are separated from their families. Why? We need your help, because we have a zero tolerance policy of our own. We will not sit idly by while children are being torn away from their families. As a child welfare agency who is the largest private foster care and adoption provider in Michigan, and also as the largest refugee resettlement agency in the state and fourth largest in the nation, we strive to prevent children from being removed from their parents and experiencing that trauma. We at Samaritas currently have 123 refugee youth in foster care or in group homes and have applied for permission to help 50 to 60 more kids in response to the latest zero-tolerance border policy. We want to see these children reunited with their families, but they need a safe, loving environment in the meantime.
Any financial support you can provide to help us gear up for serving these kids will help all of us help them more effectively. Please click on the following link to learn more about providing assistance for them: Help Refugee Foster Children. Selecting “Refugee Foster Care” in the dropdown menu will ensure that your gift supports this program. You may also wish to select “New American Refugee Resettlement” or “Good Samaritan Fund” if you would like us to have more flexibility in helping these children and others in our care.
The following video tells the story of the children in our program, and it can be downloaded from vimeo and played in your worship times, small groups, forums, etc.:Reflections on a Journey.
You may also wish to learn more intricate details about our Refugee Foster Care (“Unaccompanied Refugee Minors”) program and other ways to help at Refugee Foster Care or all the services we offer at www.Samaritas.org.
Thank you for your prayers and support for these children, and may they be blessed with family reunification as soon as possible.