Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum

Ministry & Pastoral Care Committee carried a concern from Homewood Friends to the 2014 Annual Session about children seeking asylum from Central America. We received the charge from the Yearly Meeting to consider & discern a way for BYM to proceed. We were also directed to serve as a clearing house for information that Monthly Meetings may have gathered from their own leadings, discernment, and actions.

We ask that Local Meetings and individual Friends who have information to share contact our committee. Click here to send an email to the committee.

We continue to seek a way forward for the Yearly Meeting as a whole, and ask that Meetings consider what love requires of them, and how way may open for them to respond to the call of this need.

National Organizations

AFSC: this is a broad based resource part of the website, with general and specific suggestions for action.

FCNL: this provides a concise, clear summary of the issue, with suggested action of communication with elected officials, and sample text for a letter.

Local Meetings

Baltimore Monthly Meeting, Stony Run: Stony Run now has created a Working Group on children seeking asylum. The Clerk of that group is Pamela Young.

We are relating to a 30 year old organization called Esperanza, which has a building in the center of the Baltimore Hispanic community, and runs a clinic, English as a second language, and other educational programs and is widely known and respected. They need money and volunteers, and we are providing some of each. They are also building a shelter for about 100 kids, that is nearing completion, but then needs to be approved by the State. I am pretty sure that it will be approved, at least in part because Esperanza is an offspring of Catholic Charities. Pamela should be the contact person for any interested group. We are reaching out to other Meetings in our Quarter.
At the end of January,Valerie Twanmoh, Director of the Esperanza Center wrote to report that "The funds from Stony Run have been used primarily for our ESL program for the unaccompanied children.  As you may recall, early this month we began our first after-school ESL program for these children, two days a week. The funds have been used to help pay for the cost of the ESL teachers and for books that we have ordered for the kids. We have enrolled 34 children (ages 12 – 17) in the after-school program to date, and we expect to enroll another 10 or so in the next few weeks. The clothing that you donated was offered to these young people just this week at the end of the after-school sessions. Basically, we set out the clothing so that the kids could “shop” through the items and pick out what they liked themselves. My staff has told me that the kids were absolutely THRILLED with the clothing. They were showing each other the sweaters and other items, comparing colors, etc. It was truly wonderful for them to be able to have these things and the choices that your youth group made were just perfect! Most of the gently used items have already been taken by our clients, and any that are remaining will be made available to all of our clients at the Center today, and I can assure you that they will all be taken and very much appreciated.Thank you SO MUCH Pam, to you and to the other members of the Meeting, who have been so supportive and generous with your time and your funds. It is difficult to find the words to express how much this means to us and to our clients here at Esperanza."

Charlottesville Friends Meeting: Link to attachments to this email: Rhonda Miska has been a long–time resident of Central VA, and an activist for social Justice here. She spent a month volunteering for Americans for Immigrant Justice.

A Florida-based nonprofit is bringing the issue of migrant children seeking refuge in the United States to Charlottesville.
Tuesday night, a representative with Americans for Immigrant Justice shared her stories of helping hundreds of children find a better home. The group is dedicated to protecting and promoting the basic human rights of immigrants. Organizers are working to give migrant children their due process and spread the word about their courage.
Tuesday night, Rhonda Miska led a presentation on her recent experiences with unaccompanied Central American children. She spent the last several months serving as a legal assistant with AI Justice in Miami. Miska accompanied dozens of children in court every day, listened to their stories, and helped them find legal assistance in their journeys to seek refuge. She says she wants people to know they are good kids who are risking everything to escape violence in their home countries.
“I couldn't imagine being 13, 14, 15 years old and being threatened by gangs when I went to school in the morning, being told that if I didn't join a gang, my family member would be killed, so these are really good kids that they just want to live in peace,” Miska said.
Miska says the United Nations has determined that 60 percent of these children - coming primarily from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras - do have legitimate claims to relief.
Miska will be giving the same presentation Wednesday night at the Friends Quaker Meeting House starting at 7 p.m. The event is free, but donations to support AI Justice's work will be accepted.

Homewood Friends Meeting: On the front page of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council website is a link to the Maryland Government page with information on the state's efforts and how congregations can be engaged. There is also a link to a Washington Post op ed by Oscar Arias (former president of Costa Rica) that was distributed at a meeting with Governor O'Malley. It is a good background piece on the crisis. The Maryland Government website will be updated with more information on what congregations can do.

Menallen Monthly Meeting:

We of course had been concerned when it was in the news a lot over the summer. We weren't sure how to help, and did not want to just send money. Someone found out about Mary House, an organization in Washington, DC which helps immigrants, although not necessarily the unaccompanied refugee children. We collected several boxes and bags of children's clothing, toys, and books, and will bring them there soon (we have had a few reschedules due to weather, etc!). We also ordered some new pillows, as they had expressed a special need for them, and we arranged to have those delivered directly there. We also have encountered some ambivalence among our members regarding these actions. We have a significant immigrant population here in our own county and township--about a third of the residents. Many are year-round residents, but may be undocumented and work in the local agriculture. Almost all are from Mexico. Some of us struggled to understand why we are driving a carload of donations to DC when many nearby are in need. Is it because it seems more glamorous to think that we are helping the ones profiled in the news stories? It's not that we question the needs there, or whether our gifts there are put to good use. It's a matter of having a thoughtful, grounded approach to how we share our finite resources. We decided that we would complete the donations to Mary House which I already described, and if any members felt led to further engage with Mary house, they could. Then we would as a Meeting continue our efforts more locally, with support of the soup kitchen in Gettysburg, our own preschool (which includes scholarships for needy families), and our ESL classes.