Jewish Organizations Call on U.S. Government to Protect Unaccompanied Children and Refugees

(NEW YORK, NY) – The American Jewish community is sending a strong message to President Obama and Congress to respond quickly and humanely to the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border while also maintaining their commitment to resettling refugees fleeing persecution in other parts of the world. The statement—signed by 20 national Jewish organizations—was drafted and coordinated by HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, and was signed by the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federations of North America, the Union for Reform Judaism, and other prominent Jewish organizations.

More than 50,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the southern border of the U.S. in the last nine months, and it is expected that 80,000-90,000 will arrive by the end of the current fiscal year. Melanie Nezer, HIAS’ Vice President for Policy and Advocacy, explains that “U.S. law requires that the children from Central America have their cases heard by an immigration judge before they can be deported. The system was designed to serve the 6,000 to 8,000 kids who used to come to the U.S. every year. It cannot handle 80,000.”

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), situated within the Department of Health and Human Services, provides housing for these unaccompanied children until they can be released to a relative or placed in foster care, where they wait for their immigration hearing. Due to the current crisis, ORR is facing a large shortfall in funding and has informed Congress that it plans to “reprogram” funds that had been budgeted to pay for services for refugees who arrive in the U.S. 

Jewish groups are urging the Administration and Congress to immediately increase funding for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to avoid devastating cuts to refugees and the communities that welcome them. Calling on the Jewish values of respecting human rights, protecting children, and fulfilling the Torah’s mandate to “welcome the stranger,” HIAS and its partners are urging the U.S. government to “deal with this urgent humanitarian situation while maintaining our country’s commitment to asylum seekers and refugees.”

The statement notes that “the only long term solution to this crisis is a holistic approach that prioritizes safety and opportunity for children” in the “Northern Triangle” of Central America—El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—where the vast majority of migrants have fled due to increased violence and transnational organized crime. With governments unable to ensure the safety of their citizens, children and families are fleeing to the U.S., as well as other countries in the region including Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize. In fact, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reports a 712 percent increase in asylum applicants from the Northern Triangle in these countries, an indication that people are fleeing in all directions and that the influx of asylum seekers is not unique to the U.S.

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