Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Faith Leaders Celebrate Court Decision on Family Detention; Call for Administration to Comply

Children at the Dilley, TX facility
Source: Charles Reed,
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Office of Immigration Issues have been deeply engaged in the struggle to end the unjust incarceration of asylum-seeking migrant mothers and children in three family detention facilities. On Friday, July 24, a U.S. District Judge ruled that this detention is illegal. Read more below, including a statement by Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of PC(USA).



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                   
July 27, 2015      

Contact: Shaina Aber                                                             202-629-5918 

Faith Leaders Celebrate Court Decision on Family Detention;
Call for Administration to Comply

WASHINGTON – Late on Friday, July 24, 2015, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ruled that the Obama Administration’s practice of detaining immigrant families violates the 1997 settlement in Flores v. Meese and all families, excluding those who pose a flight or national security risk, must be released as soon as possible.

The Flores settlement set guidelines for the detention of unaccompanied migrant children: if they are detained, they should be held in the least restrictive environment possible, cared for by licensed professionals. Judge Gee ruled that the settlement also applies to children detained with their mothers. She has given the federal government until August 3, 2015 to respond, or she will implement measures to enforce her ruling. Over the past two months the federal government and the plaintiffs have failed repeatedly to reach an agreement.

In response to the influx of almost 70,000 Central American families seeking asylum last year, the federal government began to detain mothers and children en masse in three dedicated facilities – Karnes City, Texas; Dilley, Texas; and Berks County, Pennsylvania. Since June 2014, 6,300 mothers and children have been booked into a family detention center. Currently, 1,700 mothers and children are being detained, even after Department of Homeland Security began their release of some mothers and children who have demonstrated a credible fear of returning to their country. According to the Women’s Refugee Commission, 88% of recently detained mothers have passed screenings for credible fear of return to their countries of origin.

The challenge to family detention came from counsel on behalf of several detained mothers. DHS responded with disappointment in the ruling, maintaining the government’s need for detention as a means of responding to mass influxes of immigrants at the border, such as the surge last summer.

Advocates, including dozens of faith groups, rejoice in Judge Gee’s ruling and plea for the Obama administration and DHS to comply. They will continue to push for the decisive end to this inhumane and immoral practice.

Read faith leader statements below.

“I applaud the July 24, 2015, ruling by Federal Judge Dolly Gee, joining the chorus denouncing family detention, reaffirming that migrant children must be released to foster care or relatives and placed in the least restrictive environment possible.  Her ruling echoes the prophet Isaiah’s call to seek to “correct oppression” (Is. 1:17) and enables our nation to better “speak out in defense of the poor” (Prov. 31:8-9).

Family detention exacerbates the trauma families have already experienced, profits prison companies, isolates legitimate asylum seekers from services, and constrains hope that liberty might ever be found.  Judge Gee’s order instructs the administration to develop a plan to release the mothers and children “without unnecessary delay.” I strongly urge the administration not to appeal Judge Gee’s decision. It is not illegal to seek asylum, and mothers and children should not be treated like prisoners. Around the U.S., our members have stood with faith partners in ditches outside centers to pray, have signed letters, visited legislators and White House staff, provided education, and made calls to build momentum for mercy and to say resoundingly that family detention is immoral. Our prayer is that it will end.” 
The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada

“Church World Service applauds Judge Gee’s ruling. The criminalization and detention of families seeking asylum and refuge is a moral stain on our nation. Our country has a moral and legal obligation to respect asylum and protection laws. CWS will continue to advocate for the immediate release of families held in detention centers and the reduction in the overall use of detention”
The Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO of Church World Service

“We are heartened by the judge’s decision to end the policy of detaining immigrant women and children. A policy that blames women and children for fleeing violence, puts them in detention, and then expedites their deportation directly contradicts our values as people of faith and a nation of immigrants.”
Scott Wright, Director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

"We commend U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee for her wisdom and justice in the Flores ruling that is consistent with Catholic Social Justice Teaching and highlights this country’s commitment to life, our concern for the most vulnerable, and our steadfast allegiance to dignity for all. This decision enlivens the truth of Pope Francis’ statement, “No cell is so isolated as to exclude the Lord, none. He is there, ... His paternal and maternal love reaches everywhere.” (Pope Francis, Vatican City, Audience for National Congress of Italian Prison Chaplains, 10/23/2013.)  We commit our prayers and resources to oppose future appeals to this decision."
Sr. Louise Gallahue, DC, Vistatrix of the Daughters of Charity of the Province of St. Louise

“Our faith compels us to seek a complete end to the failed policy of family detention. We urge the administration not to appeal Judge Gee’s ruling that detaining children violates U.S. law. The administration should cease allowing private prisons to profit off of jailing children. We must instead whole-heartedly turn towards community-based alternatives that both keep families together and answer to that of God in the women and children seeking refuge.”
Diane Randall, Executive Secretary for the Friends Committee on National Legislation

“Our Jewish values and history call us to protect life and to love the stranger. As American Jews, we must work to ensure that anyone who reaches our border is afforded safety and dealt with fairly. This ruling confirms that the U.S. government is not living up to its obligation of ensuring the proper care of children in its custody. The Jewish community has long supported policies that promote human rights and ensure the protection of children. We must continue to press our government to live up to these ideals.”
Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Vice President for Community Engagement at HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees.

“The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) welcomes the recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee which we trust will put an end to the detention of immigrant children and their mothers. We urge President Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to implement the court’s finding as rapidly as possible. We continue to be concerned about the failure of our present immigration system to treat all with the dignity and respect that is their God-given right.”
Executive Director, Sister Joan Marie Steadman, CSC

“We welcome the Judge’s ruling that no child belongs in a secure and unlicensed detention facility and strongly agree that parents should be released together with their children whenever possible. No child or family belongs in jail. Lutherans, and people of faith in communities all across America, stand ready to welcome and embrace our new neighbors as they are released from family detention facilities.”
Linda Hartke, CEO and President, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

“The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd applauds Judge Gee's ruling that condemns the incarceration of women and children.  We hope the Obama administration will abide by her wise and compassionate decision and not appeal.  These incarcerated women and children have suffered enough.”
Lawrence Couch, Director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

“We at NETWORK welcome the US District Court ruling that hopefully begins the end of family detention of undocumented immigrants. The Court recognizes the reality that we have been advocating as common sense: children and their mothers do not belong in prison-like settings. We are extremely grateful to Judge Dolly Gee for helping to ensure that children and their mothers will now await their asylum hearings in safe surroundings and not in custody. We urge the Administration to put families first by not appealing this decision. “
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

“So many in the faith community have been praying for something, such as Judge Gee's ruling, to advance the movement to end family detention. Today, we rejoice and continue to pray that the government will not appeal this decision and that, soon, thousands of asylum-seeking mothers and children will be freed.”
The Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

"The Sisters of Mercy celebrate Judge Dolly Gee's ruling on family detention. We ask the Obama administration to take immediate actions to end the shameful policy of incarcerating refugee women and children. President Obama's decision to appeal the ruling or comply with Judge Gee's findings will determine his legacy on immigration, as much as his fight for comprehensive immigration reform and deferred action."
Sr. Patricia McDermott, President of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

"The court decision is a striking affirmation in defense of vulnerable Central American children and mothers and on behalf of the rights of asylum-seekers widely. We urge the Obama administration not to appeal the court's ruling, but to embrace it, to abide by it — and to immediately release all mothers and children now being held, so they can await their asylum hearings in compliance, yet in the safety and freedom they've been denied. 
It is time to close the door on this painful and shameful policy. Not jailing children and mothers is a legacy that befits the President."
The Rev. William Schulz, President and Chief Executive Officer, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

“United Methodist Women members have been actively engaged in efforts to end family detention: marching outside the detention center in Dilley, Texas; using social media; sending postcards to President Obama; and sharing and mobilizing at Mission u events across the country. United Methodist Women celebrates this legal victory and urges the administration not to appeal this ruling. Mothers and children should be released from detention immediately. Furthermore, release from detention should not entail separating mothers and children; demanding exorbitant bonds; forcing mothers to wear GPS monitoring devices; or expediting the deportation of mothers and children. We seek a policy that guarantees due process for all including appeals on deportation orders, and which ends all family detention without an undue burden on families that have suffered more than enough.”
Harriett Jane Olson, General Secretary and CEO, United Methodist Women 


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Action Alert: Congress, Protect the Human Rights of Migrants!

It’s almost the end of July and the season of Congressional appropriations is in full swing! By September 30, Congress must pass 12 different appropriations bills to fund the U.S. government for fiscal year 2016.[1] One of these appropriations packages, the State Department and Foreign Operations bill, includes various forms of aid to other countries.

The House version of the bill (H.R. 2772) conditions humanitarian aid funding for Central American countries on their commitment to improving border security and interdicting migrants, particularly unaccompanied minors, trying to reach México and eventually the United States. [2]

The Northern Triangle of Central America-- Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras-- have erupted into levels of incomprehensible violence due to the rising control of gangs and lack of economic opportunity. The mass exodus of Central American children and families has been the result.[3] These conditional provisions in the bill seek to strategically keep Central Americans from ever reaching our southern border. The United States has already begun this process to externalize our southern border. Since last year, the U.S. has funded, armed, and trained Mexican, Honduran, and Guatemalan law enforcement to stop migration from Central America, without regard to the well-being or human rights of migrants.[4] The provisions in the House bill would amplify these efforts to keep Central Americans from exercising their internationally guaranteed right to flee trafficking, persecution, and violence as asylum seekers [5] to the United States and other countries.

We must not continue down this path. Instead, we should be investing in protection and post-repatriation services for migrants, along with addressing the root causes of migration—violence and poverty.

The Senate version of the bill (S. 1725) does not include these damaging conditions. It does, however, include positive provisions to condition assistance to Northern Triangle countries on their efforts to combat corruption and ensure transparency, protect human rights, implement policies and reforms to address root causes of poverty and violence, and reform the police and the role of military forces in policing, among many.[6]

When the House and Senate go to conference to reconcile their two bills, we want provisions like those in the Senate bill to remain and border security provisions like those in the House to be eliminated.

What does the PC(USA) say about asylum-seekers and refugees?

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has affirmed many times (1990, 1994, 1999, and 2014) [7] the need for U.S. immigration policy to protect the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers, in accordance with the Gospel mandate to care for the most vulnerable.

In 1990, the 202nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) resolved that any immigration-related policy must “uphold international standards and accords regarding protection to refugees and persons in refugee-like situations…” and “address the U.S. economic, political, and military policies that may contribute to conditions compelling human displacement and migration.”[8]

Primarily Central American migrants board a Mexican freight train known as
 'La Bestia," "The Beast" to reach the U.S. border.
Source: www.macleans.ca 

[1] The past few years, Congress has not passed all twelve bills before the deadline, so all twelve bills have been wrapped into one “omnibus bill.” Read more here: https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/federal-budget-process/
[7] 35.143. Pp 520; 30.141. Pp. 243; “Transformation of Churches and Society through Encounter with New Neighbors.” PC(USA) Statement. Pp. 353-355; Commissioner Resolution. On the Global Crisis for LGBT People and Their Families: A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Response. 09-20. http://pc-biz.org/PC-Biz.WebApp_deploy/(S(ips21ra3w0zttk2dvlduyrgf))/Explorer.aspx?id=5073
[8] 35.143. Pp. 520.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Action Alert: Congress Needs to Reauthorize Child Nutrition Programs!

Even after the economic recovery, food insecurity in the United States remains at staggering rates: 49 million people live in food insecure households.[1] One in five children live at risk of hunger every day.[2] Katie Klabusich, a policy writer, who has experienced hunger, defined food insecurity in the U.S. as eating “just enough so that you aren't really hungry, just enough so you can put one foot in front of the other, just enough so you can push your body through another workday. ”[3]
Although thousands of nonprofits and faith communities (like many of your churches) offer food assistance, they only provide one of every twenty grocery bags that those who are food insecure receive.[4] Federal nutrition programs stand in this gap. We need both.
Child nutrition programs, encompassed in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, include the School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (food assistance to child and adult care institutions). This legislation also includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. The act expires on September 30, 2015 and must be reauthorized before then.
WIC, school breakfast and lunch, after-school snack, and summer meals work together to fight childhood hunger. 21.5 million children eat a free or reduced school lunch everyday. However, gaps still exist: only four of every seven children who eat school lunch also eat school breakfast. Only one in seven participate in summer meals, often because many families cannot reach or are too far away from summer meal sites.[5]
The WIC program serves more than 8 million low-income women and children annually. Pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women and their children up to age 5 are eligible for these benefits. There are four components of the highly successful program: nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion and support, healthcare and social service referrals, and a nutritious food package. Participation in WIC contributes to healthier births, lower rates of anemia, and more nutritious diets for both the mother and her children.[6]
2015 Legislative Concerns
In the past, these programs have received broad bipartisan support. School lunch was first legislated in 1946 and expanded during the War on Poverty; WIC was enacted in 1974. Now, they are under increased scrutiny due to partisan politics.
This year, faith advocates are concerned that improvements in the 2010 legislation, such as heightened nutrition standards and funding for farm-to-school programs, will be scaled back. In addition, we are concerned that funding for child nutrition programs and other social safety net programs like food stamps will be cut. Lastly, we are worried that legislation will include legal-status documentation requirements for school meal eligibility. The school meals program is the only federal nutrition program that does not require documentation of legal status.[7] This is one way that Congressional members could insert their position on the rights undocumented immigrants should have in our society.
Improvements to Child Nutrition Programs
Source: http://www.cbpp.org/school-districts-and-schools-that-
A promising initiative within school meals is the Community Eligibility Program (CEP), a program that opens school meals to all students within high-poverty districts. It eliminates application fees, reduces administrative work, and more importantly reduces stigma for children. It has been rolled out over the past three years. Now, 14,000 schools in 11 states participate, serving more than 6 million children.[8]
More progress is on the horizon. Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Linda Sánchez (D-CA) introduced the Wise Investment in Our Children Act (H.R. 2660) in June. It would extend a child’s eligibility for WIC benefits to age 6, closing the hunger gap for children who don’t enter kindergarten until they are 6 years old.[9]
What does the PC(USA) Say about Child Hunger?
The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirmed the importance of maternal and child nutrition in the first 1,000 days, from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s 2nd birthday. Without proper nutrition during this time, children suffer permanent physical and cognitive delays. The General Assembly reiterated the Confession of 1967 that says“enslaving poverty in a world of abundance is an intolerable violation of God’s good creation.” [10] The overture highlighted programs like WIC that provide good nutrition for women and infants in this 1,000 day window. In addition, the PC(USA) participates in the 1,000 Days Movement that focuses on adequate nutrition for women and children in countries around the world.[11]

[1] http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1565415/err173.pdf
[2] http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=food-insecurity
[3] http://mic.com/articles/120610/49-million-americans-live-with-this-so-why-are-we-so-uncomfortable-talking-about-it utm_source=Mic+Check&utm_campaign=7b33b2ae5b
[4] http://www.bread.org/ol/2015/downloads/ol15-issues.pdf
[5] http://www.bread.org/ol/2015/downloads/ol15-issues.pdf
[6] http://www.cbpp.org/research/index.cfm?fa=topic&id=31
[7] http://www.childrensaidsociety.org/files/upload-docs/11-Benefits_for_Immigrants-1.pdf
[8] http://www.cbpp.org/research/take-up-of-community-eligibility-this-school-year?fa=view&id=5273
[9] https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/2660/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22%5C%22hr2660%5C%22%22%5D%7D
[10] Book of Confessions, Confession of 1967, 9.46 https://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/oga/pdf/boc.pdf
[11] http://www.thousanddays.org/

PC(USA) signs on the letter expressing concerns over "Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015"


To: Conferees to H.R. 644, the “Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015”

CC: All Members of Congress

Dear Members of the Customs Conference Committee:

As faith-based organizations and religious bodies with a presence in the United States and in countries overseas, we write you today to express deep moral concerns related to H.R. 644, the “Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015” (also referred to as the Customs bill), particularly the version that passed in the House.

While we speak from unique traditions, we share the common values that uphold the human dignity and worth of all people, protect God’s creation, and lead us to serve vulnerable populations such as subsistence farmers, workers of all conditions, the elderly, and children.

Based on these shared values, we respectfully ask you to reject the amendments to the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) law that are contemplated in Section 912 of the House version of H.R. 644. Below are a few of our concerns:

· Human trafficking – The discovery of hidden graves of human trafficking victims in
Malaysia and the lack of action from the Malaysian government in addressing this issue is horrific. We should not give privileged access to the U.S. market to countries that condone trafficking and the violation of human dignity. The House version of H.R. 644 aims to weaken the “No Fast Track for Human Traffickers” amendment to TPA proposed by Senator Menendez that passed the House and Senate and was signed into law. We ask you to reject any change or addition to the Menendez amendment in order to ensure that trade agreements do not foster, promote, or condone the scourge of modern day slavery.
Furthermore, we understand that the State Department may “upgrade” Malaysia’s designation from a “Tier 3” to a “Tier 2” status in its annual human trafficking (TIP) report to be released next week. This “upgrade” would ignore the experiences of trafficking survivors and victims, the slow pace of convictions, and the recent discovery of the mass graves. This confounding decision undermines the integrity of the TIP report and sets a disturbing precedent for trade agreements with other “Tier 3” designated countries. We urge Members of Congress to pressure the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons office to resist this political pressure and keep Malaysia’s “Tier 3” designation in its upcoming report.

· Climate change – Pope Francis and faith leaders of other major religious traditions have called for moral action on climate change. The House Customs bill included an amendment to the TPA’s negotiating objectives that would undermine efforts to address global climate change. As the world negotiates a climate agreement to protect impoverished and vulnerable communities and ecosystems from climate change, the United States must demonstrate moral leadership.

We know that people in poverty, the elderly, and children both in the United States and in developing nations already feel the impacts of climate change such as water and food scarcity, super-storms and other extreme weather events that cause displacement and even death. We ask you to reject the climate change amendment in the House version of the bill.

· Immigration – Welcoming our immigrant sisters and brothers and promoting just and humane immigration reform is a key priority for our community. The House Customs bill includes an amendment to TPA’s negotiating objectives meant to restrict trade policies from allowing for better immigration policies. We ask you to reject the immigration amendment in the House version of the bill.

We encourage you to consider how these changes to the TPA law would affect the lives of the most impoverished communities and God’s earth as you work to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the Customs bill. We urge you to reject the amendments to TPA that are contemplated in Section 912 of the House version of the Customs bill and to preserve without alteration the Menendez amendment on “No Fast Track for Human Traffickers.”


Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Holy Cross International Justice Office
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Medical Mission Sisters, Alliance for Justice
NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Institute Justice Team
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

The Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment is a group committed to asserting a stronger presence of communities of faith in public policy discussions on trade and investment. 

Contact Chloe Schwabe (Chair) at 202-841-1780 or cschwabe@maryknoll.org

J. Herbert Nelson contributes statment on proposed upgrade of Malaysia’s trafficking status

For Immediate Release: July 10, 2015      

Stephanie Niedringhaus 202-347-9797, ext. 224 sniedringhaus@networklobby.org
Chloe Schwabe 202-832-1780 cschwabe@maryknoll.org

Religious groups oppose State Department’s proposed upgrade of Malaysia’s trafficking status

Groups fear final Customs bill could further weaken trafficking, other standards to protect vulnerable populations.

Fourteen religious organizations with a presence in the U.S. and in countries overseas today sent a letter to members of a conference committee in Congress to express deep moral concerns related to H.R. 644, the “Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015” (also referred to as the Customs bill), particularly the version that passed in the House. The chief concern was that the final bill could weaken strong anti-trafficking provision in the trade promotion authority bill signed into law June 29, 2015.

It has been reported that Malaysia, a country that the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking In Persons report had elevated to a “Tier 3” country for their lack of action to combat trafficking will be back to a “Tier 2” status this year. Malaysia is a party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that the Obama Administration hopes to complete by the end of 2015.

According to Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, “This can only be seen as a cynical political action meant to bolster Malaysia’s trade status with the U.S. at the expense of countless human trafficking victims. Coming so soon after the discovery in May of almost 150 graves in Malaysian camps of trafficking victims, the State Department’s reported decision cannot be justified on any level.”

Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, II, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness stated: “The United States' willingness to compromise on holding Malaysia accountable for its human rights abuses simply to secure the Trans-Pacific Partnership is yet another mark of a broken trading system. Actions such as this show an active disregard for those with the least power in our societies. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) does not support the TPP, nor does it support weakening our stance against human trafficking in any form. As a country, our diplomacy should be focused on improving the quality of life for all individuals around the world - without exception.”

“We are very concerned about the possible upgrading of Malaysia from the lowest tier of the U.S. State Department annual Trafficking in Persons list of worst human trafficking countries,” reported Ann Scholz, SSND, Associate Director for Social Mission, Leadership Conference of Women Religious. “It is problematic on many levels. It disregards the suffering and death of trafficked persons in Malaysia; sends a dangerous message to countries who continue to turn a blind eye to the exploitation of persons within their borders; and threatens the integrity of the TIP report and the commitment of the U.S. government to ending human trafficking.”

“In April 2014, Pope Francis condemned human trafficking as a crime against humanity, a scourge and an open wound in contemporary society. The TIP report has been an important tool to encourage governments to curb and one day end this terrible offense,” reported Gerry Lee, director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, “We urge the State Department to uphold high standards rather than to make exceptions for countries when convenient for economic gains for the few that will benefit from the TPP.”

The Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment is a group committed to asserting a stronger presence of communities of faith in public policy discussions on trade and investment.