Life After the Border – Through Courageous Eyes

Through Courageous Eyes - Refugee Artists
The Through Courageous Eyes blog series features migrant and refugee artists and is curated by Cecilia Pessoa, LIRS Digital Communications Assistant.

What comes después de la frontera, “after the border”?

When a child or teenager flees from home, manages to avoid gangs and survive trekking through wilderness, and makes it though the ice-cold holding cells of police custody, what comes next?

How can we try to understand these traumatizing experiences?

The Después de la Frontera/After the Border exhibit at the Creative Alliance, a Baltimore-based arts and education non-profit, delves into these questions by bringing eight artists together to honor the stories of unaccompanied youth from Central America and their families living in Baltimore.

A family looks at photographs at Despues de la Frontera exhibit, produced by Creative Alliance.
A family looks at photographs at Despues de la Frontera exhibit, produced by Creative Alliance.

The over 51,000 unaccompanied minors who came to the United States last year from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras made an impact in our country and in local communities. Many youth have reunited with family members here in the Baltimore area.

About a year ago, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the Creative Alliance began collaborating to create a traveling multimedia exhibit that would speak to these youth’s past, their journeys, and their experiences in U.S. communities. Some have received legal status to remain and some still wait to make their cases before judges, but all live with the weight of the violence, threats, or poverty that caused them to flee their home countries.

Composite photography depicting immigration and deportation.
Part of the triptych depicting the effects of immigration and deportation on artist’s family. Después de la Frontera was produced by Creative Alliance.

The exhibit includes a triptych of images composed of photographs superimposed upon each other. The composite photographs tell of the impact that immigration and deportation have had on generations in the artist’s own family.

A video created by Tanya Garcia, the exhibit’s curator, highlights a few of the youth who have come to the Baltimore area after fleeing from their homes in Central America. The effect of the threats they experienced and violence they witnessed is still powerfully evident. No full faces are shown, only lips speaking, backlit views, or eyes full of emotion. Though they have succeeded in reaching their family members in the United States, the past remains with them.

Unaccompanied minor behind a border fence.
A piece by Michelle Ortiz. Después de la Frontera was produced by Creative Alliance.

Después de la Frontera will be on display until September 22, 2015 at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore. For details on the exhibit, to schedule a free group tour, or information about related events, please visit the Después de la Frontera events page.

Find all the previous posts in the Through Courageous Eyes series.

If you would like to showcase your artwork as part of the Through Courageous Eyes series, please contact Cecilia Pessoa at CPessoa@lirs.org.

Banner photo credit: Johanan Ottensooser

A Refugee Leadership Academy in Utah

Hari presents to the Professional Leadership Academy in Utah.
Hari presents to the migrant and refugee participants at the Professional Leadership Academy

When LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy alumni are motivated to take their experiences back to their communities, we are able to clearly see the power and impact of their participation in the event. Hari Koirala, a 2015 Academy participant, felt inspired after leaving the Academy this past June and saw an opportunity to apply his newfound skills in his community in Utah.

As a Workforce Services Specialist for the State of Utah and a refugee himself, Hari knows the challenges that exist for refugees to access and retain quality employment and education. Hari has been able to put the advocacy, leadership, and organizing skills he learned at the Academy to use, complementing knowledge already gained in his local community.

The result? A three-month comprehensive Professional Leadership Academy with over 25 participants and support from local foundations, religious groups, and universities.

Below, Hari shares his experiences:

My Inspiration

The 2015 LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy planted positive ideas in the minds of growing immigrant and refugees leaders like myself. As I was truly inspired and motivated by the advocacy training during the Academy, I was thrilled to start the grassroots Professional Leadership Academy (PLA) classes primarily focused on Bhutanese youth and leaders in the great state of Utah.

My willingness to start a local Academy also deeply connects to the inspiration, hope, and commitment given by one of the profound leaders of my community, Rudra Kuikel, whose effort in the community is radiant and vibrant. He encouraged and motivated me to get started with this project, helping me design the structure of the project and its management. It is also the grace of the Lord that energized both of us to start the local Academy to support those in need.

Impact of the LIRS Academy

The 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy was a bank of resources.

After getting back to my state and sharing the information I gathered, I realized that I had more than enough information and knowledge to start a local Academy. I realized that knowledge grows when shared! So, I, along with Rudra Kuikel, decided to get started with the project where we can give more with less, i.e. less costly than national level training but encompassing more needy immigrant and refugee populations.

The LIRS Academy helped me to initiate an effort to help marginalized immigrants and refugees with their daily challenges.

Community Support In Utah

From the day we decided to start the project, we have been reaching out to community members, local administration, local leaders, and local agencies to explain the Professional Leadership Academy’s role in the community. From this outreach, we have received inspiration, impressive participation, and committed volunteer speakers from local entities.

This has given us hope that this project will make a difference in our state.

Hari Koirala Leadership Academy
An outdoor session at the Professional Leadership Academy in Utah.

Structure of the Professional Leadership Academy 

The Professional Leadership Academy is a 12-week pilot project which has been divided into three categories. We identified that the primary needs of the immigrant and refugee youth, while transitioning into their new communities, are centered around career building and academic advancement. We realized it would be most strategic to focus on these needs first, rather than compel them to emerge as leaders when they have not yet been able to stabilize in a job. As a result, the PLA has been divided into three phases:

Career

Participants will gain the skills to obtain and retain quality employment to help boost the economy of the nation and to become self-reliant individuals.

Academic

Academic advancement will open participants’ eyes in understanding the importance of continuing higher education. It will assist participants in understanding social networks and available academic resources within and outside of Utah.

Leadership

To enhance participants’ leadership skills and give clarity to their expressions, the third phase has been divided into three subcategories of leadership through:

  • art
  • photography
  • writing

Participants will be assigned into the three groups based on their skills, talents, and creativity. They will be encouraged to create a solid picture of their prior and post-resettlement life.

By the end of the training the participants will gain the minimum grassroots level skills needed in order to address the issues and needs within their community. This class will act as a platform for our community youth to showcase their inborn talents and potential as well as to advocate.

The Future of PLA

We can see the community has a growing interest in this project and more participants are interested in attending. With the growing interest among the participants and the support from local agencies and entities, we can’t deny the fact that it would be easy to reach other immigrant and refugee communities. We plan to make a continued effort to launch similar and advanced trainings to other communities in the future, after evaluating the scope of its effectiveness to this current group.

To learn more about Hari’s story of growing up in a refugee camp in Nepal, read Learning to Paint in a Refugee Camp in our arts-focused Through Courageous Eyes blog series.

Lugar de Bienvenida/The Place of Welcome Program to Host Free Information Session in Baltimore on August 19th

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Tomorrow, August 19th, LIRS will host a free information session for migrant families and sponsors in Baltimore in partnership with the Esperanza Center and Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church. Staff from the Esperanza Center will lead a presentation in Spanish on legal and community resources for migrant families and sponsors, focusing specifically on caring for children.

When: Wednesday, August 19 from 4:30-6:30 pm
Where: Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church, 321 S Broadway, Baltimore 21231

All children and families, regardless of citizenship status, are welcome to attend this event to learn more about their legal rights and accessing healthcare and education.

To learn more about how your congregation or community can get involved, please contact Folabi Olagbaju, LIRS Director for Outreach.

Download the English flyer here and the Spanish flyer here.

How Your Breakfast Can Empower Refugees

Here at LIRS we look forward to hearing about amazing stories of empowerment for refugees, taking action, and community building. This next story has all that and granola! 

We are pleased to share this guest blog post by Anne Dombrofski, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Beautiful Day, a Rhode Island based non-profit that builds on-ramps to employment for newly arrived refugees.

Bowl of granola with blueberries.

Empowering Refugees

We live in a world where war and oppression are intensely real. More people are now displaced from their homes than at any time since World War II. We can try to ignore the pictures we see on the news, put our head in the sand—after all, what can we do? But thinking this way can make us disconnected and hard-hearted.

And empathizing isn’t always better. Just feeling someone’s pain doesn’t help solve their problems. Thankfully, these are not our only two options because refugees don’t only live on the other side of the world. They are neighbors. They are co-workers. Some are our friends. Over 50,000 resettle throughout our country every year—which means every one of us has an opportunity to get involved.

Beautiful Day has gotten involved by trying to do something about one of the biggest problems refugees face when they resettle: finding a job. To find a job people needs job skills, so we’ve set up a small business where every employee is a refugee and every position is designed to provide critical job skills.

Take Action to Raise Awareness

We’re fortunate that we have a delicious and nourishing mechanism for doing this: granola. Our granola serves a dual purpose. It is a job-training vehicle for refugees and also an awareness-raising opportunity, since it can be shipped anywhere. You can start by signing up for our e-news yourself and sharing with others. Then, help us spread the word far and wide, in the following ways:

  1. Visit our website
  2. Buy some granola and share it with your friends
  3. Like us on Facebook, and invite others to do the same.

Building Community

We also believe that welcoming refugees is not only about providing services, although these are certainly critical. At its core, it’s about forming relationships, which build and strengthen our communities. And we feel strongly about the need to empower faith communities to do this.

With this in mind, we’ve launched our “Give Your Name, Get a Bar” kit that faith communities can use to activate their networks and raise awareness about refugee newcomers. Signing up for our e-news gets each person a free granola bar, which introduces them to refugees and invites them to support local resettlement. If you are interested in partnering with us, please contact Anne Dombrofski and we’ll send a kit to your congregation.

Help form a community of neighbors who create a beautiful day: when refugees gain the ability – some for the first time – to support themselves and their families, as they become our newest Americans.

I encourage you to visit the Beautiful Day website, where you can learn about their mission, impact, and delicious granola. Sign-up for their Beautiful Day monthly e-newsletter. You’ll receive a special granola coupon just for joining.

Lutheran Youth Proclaim Community – International Youth Day

A youth group from Maryland writing postcards to unaccompanied youth at the LIRS booth.
A youth group from Maryland writing postcards to unaccompanied youth at the LIRS booth.

During the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering a few weeks ago in Detroit, we met hundreds of passionate, energetic, and engaged youth. To mark International Youth Day we want to share some of the stories with you. Amanda Chasey, LIRS Project Associate for Outreach and Lutheran Volunteer Corps member, writes about the experience:

Ali, a volunteer who was resettled through LIRS 10 months ago.
Ali, who was resettled through LIRS 10 months ago, came to volunteer at our booth.

Over 30,000 Lutheran high-school students converged in Detroit last month for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering. While there, students spent three days immersed in service, learning, prayer, and reflection during programs designed to “Proclaim Community”, “Proclaim Story”, and “Proclaim Justice”.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service was blessed to be part of Proclaim Community; three days of interactive learning in the Cobo Center in downtown Detroit. This massive convention center housed organizations that focused on different social justice issues impacting our neighbors in the U.S. as well as our global community. From hunger and homelessness, to human trafficking and water scarcity, there was no shortage of engaging learning opportunities for this inspired and passionate group of high schoolers.

Let me share a story from the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering, where we met Ali. He is a rising high-school sophomore who volunteered with LIRS at the Gathering along with an amazing team from our local partner Lutheran Social Services of Michigan (LSSM). Ali is from Kuwait and was resettled along with his mother by LSSM only 10 months ago. He is already an honors student dreaming of becoming a doctor in the United States Army after he graduates from college.

LIRS staff members, Amanda Chasey (right) and Miji Bell (left) with refugee students resettled by Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, and LSSM Staff (in blue).
LIRS staff members, Amanda Chasey (right) and Miji Bell (left) with refugee students resettled by Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, and LSSM Staff (in blue).

Watching Ali interact with the others his age, it was clear that he is a teen just like them. He has dreams about continuing his education and contributing to this nation like they do; he just wasn’t born here. There are so many other young people like Ali who have found a home here and want to do all they can to give back. It’s a blessing to welcome them and accompany them along that journey, especially when we get to meet them in person.

"Hello. How are you? My name is Annie. What's yours? I have love for you and your family. "
“Hello. How are you? My name is Annie. What’s yours? I have love for you and your family. “

Our booth focused on the journey from Central America to the U.S. that many young people were forced to endure last summer, and still today, as a result of the increasing violence in this region. We then invited those visiting our space to write messages of hope and encouragement to their peers from Central America who are waiting in shelter care until a foster family can be found to take them in.

From the poster-sized images that detailed the treacherous journey that so many young people navigate on their own, to the hundreds of heartfelt messages of hope and compassion written by these motivated high schoolers, it was a tremendously moving few days. It was amazing to witness young people’s eyes opened to the experiences that many their own age had to endure in order to have a chance at a life that all of us born here have been given.

The LIRS booth showcased photos describing the journey from Central America and  offered tables to write postcards.
The LIRS booth showcased photos describing the journey from Central America and offered tables to write postcards.

Even as violence continues to escalate around the world, the hundreds of compassionate and prayerful letters written by the incredible group of young people I witnessed in Detroit filled me with hope. There is no doubt in my mind that the America they will build will continue to proclaim the welcome set in bronze at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Learning to Paint in a Refugee Camp – Through Courageous Eyes

Through Courageous Eyes bannerToday’s post features an artist who began his creative work in a refugee camp in Nepal. Hari Koirala fled Bhutan as a child and grew up in a refugee camp, but discovered his creative talents as a photographer, painter, and writer and found hope. Today he advocates for refugees and is active in his community in Utah.

The Through Courageous Eyes blog series features migrant and refugee artists and is curated by Cecilia Pessoa, LIRS Digital Communications Assistant.

Growing Up a Refugee

After fleeing as a toddler, Hari lived with his family in a camp in Nepal. In this camp he spent 17 years – most of his childhood and youth – before receiving the option to resettle in the United States. Years ago, in a refugee camp in Nepal, this is how Hari described his situation.

Life in the camps is bad and it’s getting worse.

Fifteen years ago we were enjoying a happy life in Bhutan. The Bhutanese government evicted us, labeling us Nepalese. This was because we spoke Nepali and we wore traditional Nepali dress.

In 1990 the government began to persecute us. They burnt and destroyed our house and chased us into the night.

Becoming an Artist

After living in the camp for a decade, Hari joined the Rose Class, a new project of PhotoVoice, a non-profit that teaches participatory, or collaborative, photography in marginalized communities. Two graduate students created the project to teach photography, writing, and painting to Bhutanese refugee youth.

Painting by Hari Koirala of a building with trees and a plane flying overhead.
A painting done for a retiring co-worker in honor of her 35 years of service to the State of Utah. “The plane in the picture indicates the coworker’s next move in her retired life like vacation, travel and adventures.”

This opportunity provided materials and instruction, exposing Hari’s interest in arts and architecture. One collaborative project that Hari worked on was the painting of a rose, the group’s namesake.

Many Rose Class photographs were shared in exhibitions around the world in the United Kingdom (London), the United States (New York), France (Paris), and Nepal (Kathmandu). Some can still be seen illustrating The Story of a Forgotten People about the Bhutanese refugees.

The youth also wrote about their experiences of fleeing Bhutan, living in exile, and hoping for the future. As a teenager, Hari shared his experiences and perspective:

My family had to leave our mother country and was forced to spend a sad life in the camps. We have now spent fifteen years living in exile. My aim in life is to became a doctor and look after my community.

All the young people are eager to return to the motherland. Every year the Bhutanese government has talks but does not appear interested in taking the refugees back. I am worried these will be no repatriation and we’ll die in the camps.

More than 50% of the population of Bhutanese refugees who can remember Bhutan will end up dying in Nepal. The small children do not know anything about Bhutan because they have been born in the refugee camps.

In the United States

Hari was resettled in the United States in August of 2008 and currently lives in Utah. Since then he has become an advocate for the rights of refugees and migrants like himself. His involvement with refugees helps him “better understand their issues, problems and possible remedy for those issues and concerns.”

While Hari no longer plans to become a medical doctor, he hopes to continue studying and still wants to serve his community. His plan is to earn a PhD in social work and establish a community cultural museum for future generations.

 

Find all the previous posts in the Through Courageous Eyes series.

Through Courageous Eyes features the artistic work of refugees and migrants. If you would like to showcase your artwork as part of the Through Courageous Eyes series, please contact Cecilia Pessoa at CPessoa@lirs.org.

Banner photo credit: Johanan Ottensooser

How a Refugee’s Difficult Past Provides Strength

Falastin Hassan knows the power of good storytelling for leaders and advocates. She was a 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy participant and plans to bring her newfound leadership skills back to her community. In her story Falastin shows us how past experiences can serve as a guide for future leadership and advocacy endeavors.

Falastin’s passion to serve and advocate for migrants and refugees comes from a former life, she says. The tragic experiences from her past drive her future and her dedication to help refugees who continue to experience suffering and denial of basic rights.

Falastin and other refugee leaders present at the LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy.
Falastin (in red) and other refugee leaders present at the 2015 LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy.

The opportunities at the Academy helped Falastin realize the power of her story as she shared it with fellow participants and even with Senators and Members of Congress. In this, she learned that one of her greatest strengths is her ability to affect change through the sharing of personal experience.

My advocacy for refugees comes from my former life. I was born in Somalia before the civil war broke down my family. We lived a stable life in Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia.

I was two years old when we fled the country. At that time, I was so little that I didn’t know what was going on. We arrived in Kenya after a long trip from Mogadishu. In Kenya we didn’t know anybody, so we ended up in one of the first refugee camps.

I had never imagined what life in the refugee camp would look like. We lived in a very tiny house in the camp and we didn’t have any supplies. I remember the refugee camps being very crowded. One morning a big car showed up and everybody started running after it. After a while I saw some people coming back with food and supplies and I remember them yelling, “the UN is here the UN is here.”

After that we lived in different refugee camps for 20 years. Even though that part of my life was the most difficult part, it opened my eyes to give back and advocate for refugees and migrants.

I see life in the eyes of refugees and migrants nowadays. I went to school and graduated with a Global Studies degree and I am planning to go to graduate school soon to get a master’s degree in International Relations and hopefully work for the United Nations someday. In the mean time, I work as a refugee services specialist for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSSMN), where I help refugees resettle and integrate into their new communities.

Small group discussion
A small group of refugee leaders discuss advocacy strategies.

At the Academy, participants were encouraged to realize their strength in unity and mobilize around common goals. This experience is extremely powerful for many Academy participants and contributes to their drive to develop their own leadership initiatives once they return to their own communities.

The highlight of my Academy experience was that I met people with similar interests and backgrounds. Everyone was so passionate about the rights of migrants and refugees. I have never had that kind of experience before so I am very thankful to LIRS and my fellow academy participants.

The Academy has helped me grow as a leader a lot. I have gained a lot of experience from my peers who attended the Academy and the wonderful LIRS members who worked tirelessly to make this experience possible. I am using that experience in my community now and engaging in more advocacy activities for refugees and migrants in Minnesota.

Please share Falastin’s story by tweeting or emailing the link:

There’s something special about migrants & refugees advocating together: http://bit.ly/1OTvAHl @LIRSorg #teamwork

The Strengths of Joining Migrant and Refugee Leaders – ‘If You Want to Go Far, Go Together’

Participants in the Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy meet with White House officials in the Old Executive Office Building in Washington  DC.
Participants in the Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy meet with White House officials in the Old Executive Office Building in Washington DC.
Nyamal member of the Planning Committee and workshop facilitator at the 2015 Academy.
Nyamal, member of the Planning Committee and workshop facilitator at the 2015 Academy.

Last month, 93 former refugees, migrants, and allies traveled from across the country to attend the LIRS 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy. This year’s Academy spearheaded several new initiatives including a Planning Committee comprised of former Academy participants, and the bridging of migrant and refugee participants. The inclusion of both migrants and former refugees allowed participants to bridge their respective immigration experiences and find strength in unity. 

As a Planning Committee member and workshop facilitator, Nyamal offers a unique viewpoint of the successes of the Academy. In today’s blog post, Nyamal discusses the value in the Academy for participants and facilitators alike.

Q: Share your reflections on the Academy. What do you think were the strengths of the event?
Nyamal Tutdeal (NT): This year the Academy was unique because it was the first time that LIRS brought together migrants and refugee leaders to train and equip them with the tools needed to advocate on the issues facing both migrants and refugees. As the leaders saw in the training, migrants and refugees have more in common than different.

Academy participants share ideas during the training day in Baltimore, MD.
Academy participants share ideas during the training day in Baltimore, MD.

Q: How do you think the planning committee members’ role improved the effectiveness of the Academy?
NT: The planning committee members’ role in planning and facilitating improved the effectiveness of the Academy greatly because we had gone through the Academy last year and knew firsthand how the participants would feel. The participants this year connected with us, because in one way or another, we share a common story of being a refugee or migrant. They could relate to us and we, in turn, could understand where their questions were coming from.

Q: What was your most valuable or rewarding experience at the Academy?
NT:
 Seeing the increase in the number of women participants, and seeing a participant bring her 3-month-old daughter to the Academy so she could get the training to better her daughter’s future was very moving. That action of love spoke to me on a deeper level, and I still get emotional thinking about it now.

I was overcome by emotions during the ending session. One of the participants wrote a poem about being a refugee, making a change, and overcoming the obstacles you face in your journey. It’s interesting when you learn about yourself through the eyes of others.

Participants in the Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy walk past the Supreme Court and the Capitol as they head out to lobby in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington DC.
Participants walk past the Supreme Court and the Capitol in Washington DC.

Q:  How did you grow as a leader and advocate as a planning committee member?
NT:
After doing some self-reflection, I am amazed at the changes I’ve seen in myself. At the Academy in 2014, I was an eager participant ready to learn how to be a better advocate and leader in my community. I’ve now learned how to tell my story and the story of the countless refugees who came here as children and are now contributing citizens in their newfound country.

Coming back this year as a Planning Committee member and a facilitator was a humbling experience. I would say my leadership style is unconventional; I used humor to engage participants and actively listened to the participants’ stories; “He who learns teaches,” is an Ethiopian proverb. From this Academy I’ve learned to listen with not just my ears, but with my soul.

Q:  What do you see as the future of the Academy? 
NT: There is an African proverb that comes to mind when I think about this question: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” LIRS has helped many migrants and refugees in their advocacy work and in creating awareness about the countless issues facing both refugees and migrants (documented and undocumented). Together we will go far, using all of our voices. Now it is not just the voices of the LIRS staff that are being heard by the elected officials, but the voices of migrant and refugee constituents as well, which is profound and inspiring for everyone involved.

At the Crossroads for Unaccompanied Migrant Children: LIRS releases unified vision for the protection of vulnerable migrant children in the United States

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Since 1939, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has worked tirelessly to welcome newcomers on behalf of Lutheran churches in the United States. In the wake of increased violence in Central America that forced more than 51,000 children to seek safety alone in the United States in the summer of 2014, our work to ensure the protection of vulnerable migrant children has never been more important.

Last week, we released a new report, “At the Crossroads for Unaccompanied Migrant Children: Policy, Practice and Protection,” investigating current policy and practice challenges facing these vulnerable children and providing a set of fundamental principles for approaching work with unaccompanied children. The report also provides a comprehensive set of policy recommendations for U.S. government decision makers with responsibility for treatment of unaccompanied children.

This report is the result of a series of roundtable discussions hosted by LIRS and its findings have been informed by the wisdom, experience, and passion of an extraordinary group of national and local experts on unaccompanied refugee and migrant children.

Based on the policy, practice, and protection wisdom of participants in these Roundtable meetings, LIRS developed
 a set of seven child protection principles to guide governmental and non-governmental work with unaccompanied children:

  1. Unaccompanied children are first and foremost children. Policies and practices must recognize their needs within a context of the best interests of the child.
  2. Screening of children for persecution, abuse or exploitation should be done by skilled child welfare professionals.
  3. In legal proceedings, children need trust, safety and time in order to disclose trauma and mistreatment. Unaccompanied children must have legal counsel to represent their best interests.
  4. Children are best cared for by their families in the most family-like, least restrictive setting.
  5. Programs must provide a safe and nurturing environment for unaccompanied children while also preparing children and their future caregivers for a successful transition to a supportive family setting.
  6. Every unaccompanied child should receive support and community-based case management following their reunification with family or supportive care.
  7. Children are best served when government agencies and their partners incorporate principles of accountability, collaboration, information sharing, best practices documentation, evaluation and quality improvement.

The report also highlights various protection gaps in the systems serving unaccompanied children, including:

  • Flawed screening processes at the border, which exclude many children from protection on the basis of nationality rather than individual circumstances;
  • The use of inappropriate holding and institutional facilities both at the border and upon subsequent transfer;
  • Weaknesses in the system of placement, reunification and follow-up that fail to fully ensure children’s safety;
  • The clear lack of legal representation for children (despite heroic volunteer efforts); and
  • Budget-driven imperatives to fast-track procedures for children.

The U.S. government and its agencies must not lose sight of their legal, moral, and ethical responsibility to keep vulnerable children safe from harm. Our nation must continue its proud tradition of extending protection to those who seek refuge on our shores. It is time to stop giving into passing financial, political, and institutional pressures—with the lives of children at stake—and instead to commit to a consistent principled approach to the care and custody of unaccompanied migrant children.

Please read and share the full report, which is available to download at LIRS.org/crossroads. In the meantime, join us in taking action through the LIRS Action Center to encourage your elected representatives to protect children and all vulnerable people seeking safety in the United States.

‘My First Citizenship’ A Refugee’s Journey from Statelessness to Advocating on Capitol Hill

Refugee and migrant leaders training for advocacy.
Participants at the 2015 Migrant and Refugee Academy during a training session.

This week, I want to share this profile of a new American, Uma Mishra, who can proudly celebrate her ability to contribute to society through the right to vote and actively participate in the larger community.

To Uma, the importance of becoming a citizen of the United States lies in having a say in the way her country is run. As a participant in the 2015 LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy, Uma honed leadership skills that she can use in mobilizing her community to become more welcoming of immigrants and all the gifts they bring.

In today’s post, Uma shares her inspiring story and her views on the value that migrants and refugees bring to our country. Furthermore, Uma’s story shows us the peace that a sense of belonging brings to new Americans.

I was born in Chirang, Bhutan in 1973. In 1992, the Bhutanese government forced Nepalese families out of the country because they feared that we were taking away resources and were becoming the majority in the country. Some were forced to flee Bhutan, but others were fined or imprisoned.  Many villagers were kidnapped and tortured. Along with other families, my family was lucky enough to survive the journey from Bhutan to Nepal 23 years ago.

My family and I lived in one of the seven refugee camps in Nepal. After 18 years of hard labor in the camp, an opportunity for resettlement brought hope into my life. My family and I applied to resettle in the United States to work for a better life than we had in Nepal. In 2008, our American life began in Chicago. With a limited amount of English, I experienced many challenges. I had some hard times but thinking about how my children have a better opportunity for success than in Nepal made me feel better.

Bhutanese refugee who became a US citizen.
Uma Mishra

Before I became a citizen of the United States, I felt like an outsider in this country. This is my first citizenship in my life, which means a lot to me because I can now be a part of a big community. Also, it means that I have a say in how the country is run. The 2015 LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy has helped me to better understand my community as a whole. I have learned many skills about being a community leader. Furthermore, this Academy has helped me to realize my personal goals that I want to achieve as a Bhutanese leader.

My experiences in Nepal are very similar to the experiences undocumented immigrants have in the United States. We kept our identification hidden and were very careful and aware when traveling throughout the country.

Here in the United States, undocumented immigrants have more difficulties because the law in this country is stricter than it was in Nepal. I believe that every immigrant, whether they are documented or not, have a right to become a citizen. Every immigrant is here because they want a better future. Some come for protection and others for opportunities. Once the United States sees that we are a good addition to the American community, they will realize that we have a lot to offer.

In over 75 years of experience coming alongside and welcoming refugees and migrants, we have met so many outstanding, dedicated, and talented individuals. Each new American is truly a gift to their community and to us all.