Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Response to Unaccompanied Children Crisis

July 7, 2014

[Korean] [Spanish] Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children are fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Many are arriving in the United States where it is expected that this nation will receive more than 60,000 children at the end of the fiscal year. The president has called the situation a humanitarian crisis. The federal agencies, Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, are racing in a collaborative relay to answer the need.

As a father and grandfather, I am struck by the photos of children playing and sleeping in overcrowded holding facilities in Arizona and Texas. I grieve for their parents as I try to imagine the moment their children left on the difficult journey to another country and the depth the poverty, violence, and abuse their children must have been suffering to allow them to go.

I know that God went with the children on their journey. Though subjected to harm and often in the hands of smugglers, these children are alive and in the U.S. because of the prayers of parents and friends and persons like you and I, who read about them and knew they were coming though we did not know their names.

In the Presbyterian tradition, the congregation as a whole covenants with a family to nurture their children in the faith. We look after one another’s children. We corporately tend to their safety and growth. The children arriving at our borders are no less in need of nurturance and no less bearing the likeness of God.

Please take time to read the following facts about this crisis and prayerfully discern with your household and your congregations how you can offer nurturance to these children who have arrived in need of our care.

The Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)


  • The number of unaccompanied children apprehended in the southwest border by Customs and Border Protection in fiscal year (FY) 2013 was 26,206. The number for FY2014, as of June 15, is 52,193.
  • 39,133 of these children, 74 percent, are from the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
  • This crisis is not a result of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. If it were, the influx of these children would only be seen at U.S. borders. As it is, other neighboring countries are seeing a similar increase in persons fleeing from EL Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. According to a UNHCR study released in May of this year, since 2009, asylum claims from persons from EL Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have increased by 432 percent in the neighboring countries of Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize.
  • In that same study, UNHCR interviewed 404 children from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, who were between the ages of twelve and seventeen, to determine why they were leaving and if they were in need of international protection.  Fifty-eight percent of the children interviewed described circumstances in their home country that raised the potential for international protection.
  • Children raised issues of violence, organized crime and domestic abuse. Honduras is the murder capital of the world. The State Department acknowledges that the government of Honduras lacks the resources to address the crime in its borders. El Salvador is the country with the fourth highest murder rate and Guatemala is fifth.
  • Children who arrive unaccompanied are not paroled into the U.S. and allowed to stay indefinitely. They are to be held for up to seventy-two hours by Customs and Border Protection and then delivered to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) which is to find a relative, foster placement, or group home placement with the assistance of Health and Human Services (HHS). All children who arrive without documentation in the U.S. are given a notice to appear in court for deportation proceedings.

 Ways to Help

  • Do your part to add facts and sanity to the dialogue. Follow the links above to reports from trusted sources to get informed on the situation and use those facts to change the dialogue at the water cooler and in the pews.
  • Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is involved with churches and presbyteries on the border especially impacted by this crisis. Learn more about this important ministry and how to donate here.
  • Start a detention visitation ministry. Children raising a claim of international protection may have to wait a significant time for their hearing. If family cannot be located, they will spend this time in an ORR facility. To find an established ORR facility near you, contact HHS public affairs at: 202-401-9215.

New facilities are opening weekly to respond to this specific crisis. The list below is not exhaustive.

Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Airforce Base, Lackland, Texas

Fort Sill, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Naval Base Ventura County, California

  • If you believe you have family in ORR care, please call the parent hotline at: 1-800-203-7001.
  • Persons in immigration court are not guaranteed counsel. In fact, half of all persons in immigration proceedings do not have a lawyer. It is expected that half of the children entering the U.S. will have a claim for asylum or special immigrant juvenile status. They will need a lawyer to help them through the complex immigration process. If you know an unaccompanied child, consider gathering funds for their defense or help them find affordable counsel. Contact Immigration Advocates Network , a network of nonprofit immigration lawyers, or partner with your local AILA chapter or bar association to recruit attorneys.
  • Children with successful claims will receive status in the U.S. Some will not have a family in which to go. Consider becoming a foster family through ORR.
  • As the church lives into ways to assist in this situation, the information on this page will be updated accordingly. If you have found an opportunity for outreach and would like to share it with the greater church, please contact Teresa Waggener at the Office of Immigration Issues at 502-569-5372.

Lea este artículo en Español.

Read this article in Korean.

  1. I appreciate the approach toward this issue that our church is taking: "The law was made for man. . . (Mark 2:27)" and the essence of law is love (Rom. 10:13). Thank you for keeping us informed and for suggestions on how to support this approach.

    by Ruth Burgos-Sasscer

    July 25, 2014

  2. I live in a mid-Atlantic state. How would my church go about hosting some of these children?

    by Bill

    July 16, 2014

  3. Matthew 25: 35-40. A mother has to be desperate beyond words to send her child into the unknown, likely never to meet again, to escape violence. The children should not be turned away; yet we must try to seek a solution to the problem. The roots of violence and poverty in the countries are multiple and complex, but the present issue is that the drug cartels, partially through American drug use, have these countries in a stranglehold. It would seem that sitting on our hands and doing nothing will achieve just that. What could happen if the countries in North and South America could unite in a major plan akin to the Marshall plan to strengthen the economies of these poor nations and squeeze out the violent drug pushers. Money? Of course. Think of the trillions of dollars that have been spent on wars that seem at this point to have achieved little.

    by margaret vincent

    July 14, 2014

  4. I pray for the lives affected by this terrible crisis. Jesus said, "Let the children come unto me". Can we do anything less? I will help by giving to the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and volunteering in the Dallas area. A member of 1st Pres Dallas.

    by Ginger F Heard

    July 13, 2014

  5. On one side we have thousands of abandoned chldren whose parents don't ever expect to see them again. On the other side we have thousands of American families who are very anxious to adopt a child. Bring the two together in a massive adoption and foster parent program. Everybody wins , the government saves money, and children achieve their dream of real loving American family life.

    by Van Gates

    July 11, 2014

  6. I am just bleeding for these children. They are just kids without their parents, not understanding the language. I need to move beyond crying to what I can DO. Dear Lord, direct me.

    by Barbara Williamson

    July 10, 2014

  7. what if one was Jesus fleeing the wrath of the powerful and corrupt

    by houston seals

    July 10, 2014

  8. We need to work with the Churches in Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua to change this. How can we do this? Seriously. How can I help the Churches in these countries to help the people there?

    by John

    July 10, 2014

  9. I would loveto foster a child. Can this happen

    by Phyllis Ferlisi

    July 10, 2014

  10. I have been watching this closely on TV. A challenge for sure. I understand that gang violence in El Salvador, Hondurus and Nicarugua is driving this. It must be bad....for a parent to send their kid off on the long and uncertain journey to America rather than stay in their home country tells me that it musts be bad. I don't have a global solution. But I see the need for our church to step in. I'd be interested in ways to help. Can I put soe of these kids up in my house? Stan

    by Stan Miller

    July 9, 2014

  11. so proud to be Presbyterian!

    by Susan Wainner

    July 9, 2014

  12. I want to get involved in helping these kids. I have a contact to send Bibles, book and games. However, what I really want is to go to the kids, give them comfort, cook, clean what ever is needed. This could be short term, as part of a team or long term if needed. What can be done above and beyond donating?

    by Nancy Sterling

    July 9, 2014

  13. So we can be balanced in our facts, perhaps we should include the percentage of these children who show up for their deportation hearings (low 20's). Omitting this fact trivializes the concerns some have with the present process. You give the percentage increase in asylum claims in neighboring countries. What are the actual numbers and how many of them are minors? Adult numbers are different than children. To say that the recent influx of unaccompanied minors to the U.S. is not related to Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals, you would need to know that the same number of unaccompanied minors are also going into neighboring countries or even more since these counties are so much closer. Do the facts confirm or contradict your assertion?

    by John Stone

    July 8, 2014

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