The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM), an office and program of the Administration for Children and Families and the United States Department of Health and Human Services, "helps unaccompanied refugee minors develop appropriate skills to enter adulthood and to achieve social self-sufficiency." URM originally developed in the 1980s in response to thousands of children in Southeast Asia without a parent or guardian to care for them. Presently, URM "ensures that eligible unaccompanied minor populations receive the full range of assistance, care and services available to all foster children in the state by establishing a legal authority to act in place of the child's unavailable parent(s)." Their program encourages reunification of children with their parents or other appropriate adult relatives, and if reunification is not possible, each program works to design a case specific permanency plan for each minor or youth in care.
The Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service (LIRS) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) directly help ORR accomplish the URM program. Both of these agencies utilize local congregations and other faith-based agencies to respond effectively.
Currently, LIRS is advocating for humane alternatives to the proposed detention centers for responding to the humanitarian crisis at the US border. They are developing a proposal to the federal government for a program that allows families to be released into the care of communities that are prepared to offer hospitality and support.
If this proposal is successful, LIRS needs congregational help and volunteers to collaborate in caring for families seeking protection and who must navigate a complex legal process. Specifically, LIRS seeks support to establish "Houses of Welcome," a proven effective program of theirs to provide more smooth transitions. A House of Welcome provides communal housing to vulnerable migrant families who await decisions in their immigration legal processes.
Here are some of the ways your congregation can help:
- Donate and/or lease a vacant parsonage, school, church or dorm to serve as a House of Welcome.
- When such needs are specifically identified, organize a congregation wide clothing/furniture drive to donate locally to a House of Welcome.
- Sponsor a family or multiple families at a local House of Welcome, providing regular transportation, friendship and support.
- Host regular community or educational opportunities for families living in the community or at a House of Welcome.
- Provide Spanish interpretation services, case management services, or immigration legal assistance with appropriate expertise.