Primarily along the Southern Border of the USA, then to local communities throughout the country. Within Central America: Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador
In the summer of 2014 more than 60,000 children, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials near the U.S. border with Mexico. These children were part of an influx of families during the summer who were fleeing violence and persecution in their countries. Their communities in Central America were, and are to this day, plagued by gang violence, to the point where local officials and police cannot protect the vast majority of the population. Youth are especially targeted, either as potential gang members, or in the case of young women as “girlfriends” to gang members, finding themselves victims of sexual and gender based violence.
As families would arrive at the border of the United States, there was an immediate need to care for the children, as well as provide initial counseling to families regarding their potential asylum claims. CWS coordinated a response with local partners, appealing to our 37 member denominations for support in aiding the families that were then placed in centers in both Texas and New Mexico. In California and Arizona, CWS issued emergency grants to faith communities providing housing and basic needs to help women with their children reunite with family members in the U.S.
Many policy makers wanted to send back the children and roll back the humanitarian protections that are part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act that ensured Central American children would be screened by Health and Human Services for asylum. CWS, along with the Refugee Council USA and partners, mobilized advocates from throughout the country to keep these essential humanitarian protections in place.
CWS was able to use the existing legal services network to provide attorneys and BIA accredited representatives to the Artesia family detention center in Artesia, Texas, as well as the center in Dilly, Texas. Families were counseled on their asylum claims, and CWS staff helped with the initial registration of arriving children.
The work still continues today as many families now need additional support as their asylum cases proceed through immigration court. CWS also continues to enlist churches in sending cards of support to families in detention, as well as organize advocacy work around the need to continue support for both undocumented families arriving in the U.S. and development for affected communities in Central America.