Family Detention, Deportation, and Economics — Top Picks of the Immigration and Refugee Blogosphere

Christmas Tree CapitolThis holiday season, many are celebrating the opportunities the President’s executive actions affords them, or those they hold dear. At the same time, some detention facilities will be full of women and children, and families will still be torn apart by deportation. This week I would like to highlight the positive economic potential of the executive actions, brought to us by Immigration Impact’s Paul McDaniel. Hopefully this impact, as well as our call to welcome and care for the sojourner, will empower us to extend the long welcome to our neighbors in the new year.

Please email me or comment if you have any thoughts about this week’s Top Picks. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog, and I look forward to sharing the best online commentary on immigration and refugee issues.

‘Drawings By Themselves’ A Look into Immigration Detention – Through Courageous Eyes


Today’s post for the Through Courageous Eyes series showcases the drawings and story of Marcela Castro who was held in U.S. immigration detention. This blog is curated by Cecilia Pessoa, LIRS Communications Associate.

Marcela is originally from Costa Rica and came to the United States to seek asylum. While in detention, art was an outlet for processing her feelings, but she has been drawing as long as she can remember. One of her first drawings was a portrait of her father.

In this video Marcela shares her drawings while explaining her experiences with the dispiriting conditions in detention.

Her work is part of a multimedia project supported by LIRS called Drawings By Themselves: Portraits of America, which was organized by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).

Drawings By Themselves: Portraits of America is a multimedia project, which provides children and parents impacted by U.S. immigration detention with an opportunity to share their stories and their drawings.

The title refers to the fact that many of these mothers, fathers, and children are separated from their family; they are alone, and hence, the drawings are done “by themselves.” Through their artwork, these children and parents tell a story about America today. In doing so, they claim America as their own.

Listen to the story of Carolina, a 16-year-old girl in U.S. immigration detention. Her story is brought to life through paintings by Marcela Castro, a young mother who was held in U.S. immigration detention and remains separated from her daughter.

This project was released on November 20, 2014, in honor of the International Day of Action to End Child Detention and the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child.

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

Banner photo credit: Johanan Ottensooser

HEADLINES: Immigration — December 17, 2014

WhiteHouse_600As more of the President’s executive actions on immigration comes into focus, many eligible applicants seek to find out as much information as they can in order to “come out of the shadows and get right with the law,” as the President has encouraged them to do. Visit our blog for HEADLINES: Immigration. I’ll bring you all the most important and up-to-date news on the immigration debate.

With Drawings and Letters, 1,000s of Kids Ask Congress for Immigration Reform [Fox News Latino]

No Way Home: Illegal Immigrants Probably Unable to Travel Under Obama’s Plan [The Washington Post]

Border Politics: Debating Immigration Policy [The New York Times]

Undercurrent of Fear in Executive Actions on Immigration [MSNBC]

Applying for Immigration Action Could Begin in Mid-February [NBC News]

Undocumented Immigrants Line Up for Door Opened by Obama [The New York Times]

South Texas Family Lockup Will Be Nation’s Largest [The Monitor]

Why Hotels Support Citizenship for Immigrants [The Washington Post]

Documenting Immigration From Both Sides of the Border [Time]

Advocates Warn Scams Will Intensify in Wake of Obama’s Immigration Reforms [The Las Vegas Sun]

Immigrants Urged Not to Fear Applying for Program [Charlotte Observer]

Photo credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia

Breakdown of How Congress’s 2015 Funding Affects Migrants and Refugees

button_icon_national_alert2On Saturday, Congress worked down to the wire to pass legislation funding the government through Fiscal Year 2015, which ends September 30, 2015. The 1,013 page bill that passed both chambers of Congress authorizes $1.1 trillion in spending for almost the entire government. Funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was not agreed upon. Instead, the bill continues existing funding levels for DHS only through the end of February to allow the new Congress to deliberate spending measures related to the President’s November 20 actions on behalf of migrants and their families.

Here is a breakdown of how this legislation affects funding for migrants and refugees:

Ensuring protection of children and families from Central America seeking safety:

  • The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) received a small increase in funding, bringing their budget to $1.56 billion. Portions of this budget will go to support children who have fled to the United States alone and for schools that have seen an increase in enrollment of these children.
  • HHS was given increased flexibility in its spending, which we hope will prevent ORR from taking funds away from refugee social services to meet the needs of children arriving alone.

Ensuring protection of refugees overseas:

  • The State Department received $3.06 billion for their budget for refugees and internally-displaced persons. This funding will go toward helping address humanitarian crises abroad, including the root causes of migration from Central America.
  • The Lautenberg Amendment, which allows certain religious minorities to seek safety and a new life in the United States, is extended through the end of FY 2015.

Ensuring due process to vulnerable migrants:

  • The Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) received an increase of $315 million for 35 new immigration judge teams, which will lead to 39,000 more case adjudications annually, providing greater due process for those going before immigration courts including children and families seeking refuge from Central America.

We are dismayed that this bill continues funding arbitrary and large-scale immigration detention, including the inhumane practice of family detention. LIRS has long opposed the detention of migrant families as it threatens the psycho-social well-being of mothers and children, in addition to preventing their full and fair access to legal representation and information. As Congress again considers funding for the Department of Homeland Security in January or February, we will be seeking your help in calling for more welcoming, humane, and compassionate responses to migrants and refugees.

If you feel called to do so, stand up against family detention through the LIRS Action Center. Be the voice for hundreds of children who will spend Christmas isolated in detention.

As always, sign up for our Stand for Welcome advocacy updates to receive the latest advocacy news.


We Need Your Help! Give a Gift to One of the 300 Children in Karnes Detention Center this Christmas

HopeHolidays-WebBanner-700x200As many of you know, LIRS recently held a Hope for the Holidays card writing campaign to give hope to families isolated in detention over the holidays. We asked supporters to write 1,700 cards, so that every migrant mother and child in family detention centers would receive a message of hope. We were amazed to receive 9,000 messages of hope. Thank you for the incredible compassion you demonstrated through participating in the holiday card writing campaign. This is a beautiful expression of welcome and friendship to the 1,700 individuals detained this Christmas season.

The next phase of this campaign is to give a gift to each child in the Karnes County family detention center and the Dilley detention center. To make this happen, we are partnering with Good News Lutheran Church in San Antonio, who will receive the gifts. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will then facilitate delivery of the presents to the children. These little ones face medical issues, restricted movement, and depression as a result of detention. We only need 300 gifts to create happy memories for these children amidst the trauma of spending Christmas in a detention center.

Because of health and safety regulations, the federal government only allows letters to be sent to detained individuals: no packages. They are making an incredible exception to allow gifts into the facilities. We have worked closely with them to determine the safest way to send presents and have created a gift registry. We hope that every child at Karnes will be able to have a joyous Christmas this year.

Please follow the instructions below to order and ship a gift to a child in family detention. Please have your gift arrive at Good News Lutheran Church by Dec. 23 so it can be delivered to the facility by Christmas morning.

Gifts that arrive by any other process will not be accepted by the ICE facility.

  1. Visit our registry.
  2. Choose a gift.
  3. Purchase the gift.
  4. Enter in the mailing address corresponding to the registry.
  5. Return to the registry and mark your gift as purchased.

Thank you for participating in our holiday campaigns to bring hope and joy to the children in detention this season. Your gifts are powerful memories to the children and mothers who cannot celebrate Christmas this year.

Questions or concerns? Email us at

Please address gifts to:

Good News Lutheran Church
11020 Old Corpus Christi Hwy
San Antonio, TX 78223
Phone number: 210-213-6620 (Rosemarie)

First Steps Shows Us How to be More Supportive to New Americans — Guest Post by Bishop Michael Rinehart

Bishop Michael Rinehart

Bishop Michael Rinehart

Today, I’m pleased to share a guest post by LIRS board member Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Bishop Rinehart writes on First Steps and how members of his synod will use it in their ministry to new Americans.

As members of an unfamiliar society, new Americans face huge challenges. Many have come from situations we can hardly imagine. Abuse, torture, and poverty. Some have seen the death of loved ones. Others were forced into gangs, armies, or militias.

Sadly, the United States has reinstated the obsolete practice of detaining families. Hundreds of families are currently detained, and the average age of children in detention is only six years old. We have even heard of a baby baptized in detention. That we detain families with children at all is heinous. It is a human rights violation that is against everything we stand for in the United States. Many flee their country, then arrive in the land of freedom only to be put behind bars, with no due process, sometimes without a court date. The basic human rights for which our forebears fought are disregarded.

Those who have been granted asylum find themselves in a strange country with new laws. Those who have come here without documents or who come legally but overstay their visas because of our antiquated system may be awaiting a court date. What are their rights and responsibilities? There are not nearly enough well-trained immigration attorneys. Often attorneys unfamiliar with our complex immigration system get asked to help. This book, titled First Steps: An LIRS Guide for Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants Released from Detention, is a manual for refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers, that they may know their rights. It is also for lawyers, case managers, churches, and other service providers. First Steps is a project of the Detained Torture Survivors Legal Support Network, a program of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).

There are 28 short chapters on topics such as what rights you have if you’ve been arrested, how to get your personal property back when you get released from detention, how to get a green card, how to get a work permit, how to reunite your family, information about voting, joining the military, access to healthcare, education for children, how to get a Social Security number, how to get a state ID card, finding support from religious communities, how to find legal services, and more.

Various congregational members in our synod have visited detention centers, participated in prayer vigils and personally helped new Americans get on their feet. “First Steps” will give us information that can help us be more aware of what new Americans face and how to be supportive.

First Steps is available as an EPUB, PDF, and is downloadable to Kindle. Visit to learn more and download your copy. Two status specific supplements are available for lawful permanent residents and asylum seekers. First Steps will be available in Spanish shortly. If you have questions, email

If you feel called to welcome further, consider giving hope to migrants in detention by participating in visitation ministry. Visitation ministry is a commitment to regularly visit with individuals or families isolated in immigration detention. 30-60 minutes of compassionate fellowship helps restore dignity to those affected by our broken detention system. Visit to learn more, and use LIRS’s interactive map to identify and connect with a visitation ministry in your community. Folks in Karnes City, Texas are arranging visits to the Karnes detention center around Christmas. If you are in the area and are interested in joining, please contact Paul Pfeifer directly at

You can also stand alongside migrants and refugees by advocating through the LIRS Action Center, organizing a prayer vigil, sharing Mythbusters, using our Holiday Toolkit for Migrant Justice, and more. For details on how to lead an event, visit If you live near Austin, Texas, consider participating in the Lutheran Legislative Event scheduled for February 15-17, 2015.

A Story of ‘Exodus’ from a Child Holocaust Survivor – Through Courageous Eyes

This installment of Through Courageous Eyes departs from the visual arts for a poem by Lotte Kramer, a child Holocaust survivor. This blog is curated by Cecilia Pessoa, LIRS Communications Associate.

Lotte was saved from likely death under the Nazi regime along with about 10,000 other children through a program called Kindertransport. Her words evoke the pain of parting, the heartache parents felt when choosing to send their children away, knowing they could no longer protect them. These tragic separations continue to happen today when parents send their children away from gang-ridden El Salvador and Honduras.

Photo Credit: bertknot

Frank Meisler’s memorial for the children saved through Kindertransport located in Hook of Holland, Netherlands.
Photo Credit: bertknot

Lotte was born in 1923 in Mainz, Germany and was one of the nearly 10,000 children rescued from Germany, Australia, Czechoslovakia, and Poland through the Kindertransport movement. Kindertransport began sending children to Great Britain after Kristallnacht, “Night of Broken Glass,” in November 1938 and lasted until war broke out in September of 1939.

The original intent was that the refugees would be returned after the crisis, but many parents sent their children away knowing the dangers ahead. In fact, most never saw each other again. After waiting for years Lotte received the news that her parents, aunts, and uncles were all sent to death camps and that none survived.

Photo Credit: MrsEds

Kindertransport – The Arrival
A memorial by Frank Meisler in Hope Square, London, where many of the children arrived.
Photo Credit: MrsEds

For decades the recollections were too painful, but after 40 years Lotte began writing poetry as a way of telling people about what happened to her. “They need to know but I don’t know if they’ll learn any lessons. You get such terrible things happening now.”

Lotte’s poem Exodus draws parallels between parents sending their children to Britain and Jochebed entrusting her son Moses to the Nile in a wicker basket.


For all mothers in anguish
Pushing out their babies
In a small basket

To let the river cradle them
And kind hands find
And nurture them
Providing safety
In a hostile world:
Our constant gratitude.
As in this last century
The crowded trains
Taking us away from home
Became our baby baskets
Rattling to foreign parts
Our exodus from death.

The plaque to Frank Meisler’s memorial in London.
“Whoever rescues a single soul is credited as though they had saved the whole world” -Talmud
Photo Credit: Julian Walker

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


Information from Quakers in Britain and The Kindertransport Association. The poem came from Voices Compassion Education. Banner photo credit: Johanan Ottensooser

New LIRS Board Member, Wilmot Collins, Discusses Tackling Ebola from Montana to Liberia

Wilmot Collins

Wilmot Collins

Today, I am delighted to share an interview with Wilmot Collins, a former refugee from Liberia and dynamic advocate of new Americans. In this interview, Wilmot, a newly elected LIRS board member, tells how the Ebola epidemic in Liberia suddenly became personal for him in his home state of Montana.

This interview was carried out over email by Juliet Sohns, LIRS Grassroots Mobilization Intern.

Juliet Sohns (JS): How did you become involved in refugee advocacy?

Wilmot Collins (WC): I entered the United States as a refugee; even though I had a seamless transition I noticed a lot of other refugees were struggling to navigate the web of forms and information. I knew I could help, and when the UNHCR [The UN Refugee Agency] contacted me to be a part of their Refugee Advisory Board, I knew I would be able to utilize my knowledge, skills and abilities to help other refugees. Presently I am a board member of “Refugee Center Online.” We have a team of people in various states that help refugees with their various processes.

JS: You were elected to the LIRS Board of Directors. Your term will start in 2015. Congrats! How do you see your role on the Board affecting your leadership with the larger refugee community?

WC: In order to adequately advocate for refugees in the larger communities, you must have the necessary contacts and joining the Board of Directors for LIRS I believe would provide me with the much needed tools and contacts to continue actively advocating for refugees in the smaller communities as well.

JS: You are a well-known leader on immigration issues in Montana: you’ve participated in LIRS’s World Refugee Day Academy as both a facilitator and an attendee, have written op-eds on immigration issues, and elected officials have sought your input. How do you see yourself engaging with immigration issues and LIRS’s World Refugee Day Academy in the future?

WC: Whatever I am involved with, I tend to put my heart and soul into it. I would hope that as a board member of LIRS I would continue to stay active with those issues that affect refugees, and that the Board would continue to use me at the World Refugee Day Academy.

JS: You were born in Liberia, a country which has been affected by the Ebola outbreak since March, 2014. As you monitor the situation in Liberia, what is the community in Montana doing to support loved ones who are impacted by the epidemic?

WC: I didn’t wait for the community to act; I decided to act because the Ebola outbreak became personal. My wife and I were getting ready to settle down as empty-nesters when my niece and nephew [who were visiting from Liberia] couldn’t return to Liberia. My niece and nephew visit us in Montana every summer, but this summer was different with the Ebola outbreak. They could not return, so we now have two more kids. When my sister [mother of the two children] came to visit, I decided to use her experience as a hospital administrator to inform my Helena community about the Ebola outbreak and use the same occasion to raise some funds for “Friends of Liberia,” a group of Peace Corps that were in Liberia that decided to help with the Ebola outbreak.

I single-handedly contacted the various news media and organized a program at the St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, and for such a short notice (10 days) we were able to raise a little over $1,700.00. The program was a success; I am still getting calls from people as to how they could help. My sister’s hospital saw the first case of Ebola and with her experience as a registered nurse and a hospital administrator, she provided the community a wealth of information and laid some of their fears to rest. Please read this newspaper article for more information.

JS: What are the main issues that you want to address that are unique to the Liberian refugee community in Montana?

WC: I sincerely wish we had a larger Liberian community in Montana; the sad truth is that 90% of the Liberian refugee community [in Montana] belongs to my family. But that is exactly why I am more passionate to help others, because as my mother always told us, “Things done by halves are never done right.” What she was saying is whatever you want to do, put your heart and soul into it and do it right.

HEADLINES: Immigration — December 10, 2014

WhiteHouse_600It has been a few weeks since President Obama took the first step in providing relief for millions of our neighbors through his executive actions, but we are still celebrating with those who this positively impacts and remain steadfastly beside those it leaves behind. Visit our blog for HEADLINES: Immigration. I’ll bring you all the most important and up-to-date news on the immigration debate.

Why Nashville is the Backdrop for Obama’s Immigration Pitch [The Washington Post]

Nashville, New Model Immigrant Gateway, to Host Obama for Speech About Executive Action [Fox News Latino]

The Immigrant Crackdown [Buzzfeed]

White House, Democrats Teaming up on ‘Immigration Strike Team’ [The Washington Post]

An Unexpected Activist for Children in the Immigration Debate [The Seattle Times]

The Child Migrants Crisis Has Faded, But Family Detentions Are Forging Ahead [International Business Times]

On Immigration, a Huge Job Ahead [The New York Times]

 Photo credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia

Two Hearings to be Held on the President’s Executive Actions this Week — Here’s What to Expect

640px-Liberty-statue-from-belowLast week, we updated you on a vote in the House of Representatives on H.R. 5759, a bill intended to prevent the President from implementing executive actions on immigration. If this bill becomes law, it will have devastating consequences on millions of families, as well as other vulnerable individuals fleeing violence and persecution. Because of your actions, 420 messages were sent through LIRS’s Action Center urging Members of Congress to oppose this bill and stand with people of faith in supporting the President’s actions for family unity and humane immigration enforcement.

While the vote on the bill was a symbolic gesture for those who oppose the President’s action on immigration, it was anything but symbolic for the millions of individuals who may soon live without the constant fear of deportation. The bill did pass the House, but we know that it has no chance of becoming law in this Congress because it will not have similar support in the Senate.

This week, we write to update you on two hearings being held in the House and Senate:

The Impact on Local Communities of the Release of Unaccompanied Minors and the Need for Consultation and Notification

Tomorrow, at 2:00 pm, the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security will hold a hearing entitled “The Impact on Local Communities of the Release of Unaccompanied Minors and the Need for Consultation and Notification.” This hearing will focus on three pieces of legislation designed to increase state oversight over the care and custody of migrant children who arrive in the United States alone seeking refuge. While these bills are presented as ‘common-sense protections’ for communities that welcome these vulnerable children, they are in fact duplicative of current law and may have devastating unintended consequences that overburden other government agencies and risk children’s health and well-being. LIRS has put together an analysis of these bills that may be found here.

Keeping Families Together: The President’s Executive Action on Immigration and The Need to Pass Comprehensive Reform

Tomorrow at 2:30 pm, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold another hearing on the President’s executive actions entitled “Keeping Families Together: The President’s Executive Action on Immigration and The Need to Pass Comprehensive Reform.” As people of faith, LIRS supports the President’s actions to protect family unity and promote humane enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws, while also continuously calling for fair and compassionate immigration reform. We will continue to work with Congress and the Administration to reform to our broken immigration system and end the inhumane practice of family detention.

As always, we will keep you updated on these hearings and other happenings in immigration. In the meantime, please consider using LIRS’s Action Center to send a message to your elected representatives urging their support for migrants and refugees and the communities that welcome them.

Photo credit: Derek Jensen (Tysto)