Elder Doska Ross is Synod Executive and Stated Clerk
January 5, 2016
Synod Grant Will Assist Ministry with Central American Refugees
January 25, 2016
The Synod trustees in June, 2015 learned about an exciting mission project involving Presbytery of the Pacific and many Presbyterians from Southern California. We approved a $50,000 grant from the Gregory Funds to support Central American refugees with legal service providers, as well as social, mental health, and medical service providers. This is a project supported by many of our interfaith and ecumenical partners and promises to have long-term impact on these children who are caught in our legal system with few resources.
The Rev. Heidi Worthen Gamble, Mission Catalyst with the Presbytery of the Pacific, explains this ministry that is primarily funded by the Gregory Funds grant from the Synod:
"Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Pacific Presbytery, and CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice), have formed a partnership to develop UCARE (Unaccompanied Children and Refugee Empowerment), a city-wide interfaith and inter-agency coalition in Los Angeles to respond to the needs of unaccompanied minor children/refugees from Central America (ages 7-17 years) who have been placed here by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The children are fleeing extreme violence in their home countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and now face severe economic hardship and bewildering court proceedings without a right to court-appointed representation; truly the poorest of the poor in our midst."
Why are they fleeing?
" Children who live in the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) are preyed upon in elementary school to be recruited to extreme gang violence. Girls are recruited for sex trafficking, boys are recruited to kill and support the gang. If a child refuses, a family member is shot and killed in front of them, as a reminder that they have no choice. One of the most powerful gangs in the world is the Mara Salvatrucha gang or MS-13, who originated in Los Angeles in the Pico-Union area in the 1980s, who have been deported from U.S. prisons in the past several years. MS-13 has ignited into being one of the deadliest gangs in the world.
"Many of these children are Christians who know that Jesus does not call them to live a life of violence, and so they flee, seeking refuge in a country that will protect them. The children are fleeing not only to the United States, but also to Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica, seeking political asylum. The children have an internationally protected right to seek protection when their own country cannot provide for their protection. They are considered refugees.
"When the children arrived at the U.S. border last summer, they presented themselves openly, asking for help. Unfortunately, over 100,000 children have been deported by our government, many back to their deaths. However, if a child had a relative in the United States, the children were parceled out to various regions of the country by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to undergo deportation proceedings to win their political asylum cases. Los Angeles is the primary recipient city of these children; currently there are approximately 3,500 unaccompanied minor children in the Los Angeles County Court System. When properly represented in court, the children’s cases are winning as legitimate asylum and special immigrant juvenile status. These children have experienced extreme violence and unimaginable trauma. Approximately 90% of the girls who arrived have been sexually trafficked. Here in Los Angeles, they are placed with immigrant relatives, most of whom are living in poverty themselves, while going through bewildering and complex court proceedings. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has declared this a humanitarian crisis. These children are refugees in our midst, they have experienced the same level of atrocities as Syrians who are fleeing to the borders of Europe. We know that the church is called to stand in the gap. That’s what we are doing. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Pacific Presbytery, and CLUE-LA, an interfaith worker justice organization, have teamed up to hire Guillermo Torres, a Christian organizer from CLUE, to form an interfaith, interagency coalition here in Los Angeles to respond collaboratively to the needs of the unaccompanied minor children, and mothers and children fleeing violence in Central America who have come to us for refuge. Through this coalition, called the UCARE coalition, the church is leading the city of Los Angeles in a growing movement of care and commitment to these children.
"Out of the UCARE Coalition came the desire to respond collectively to the other accompany crisis, which are families (mostly women and children) being released from Texas detention centers. UCARE and CARECEN, the Central American Resource Council, partnered to create a "Legal Orientation/Pro Se Clinic" Program for these families, which trains them in knowing their rights. helps them with their asylum applications, and connects them to quality legal service providers. The Synod of Southern California and Hawaii has been the primary funder and a key partner in making these lifesaving clinics happen! They began on January 14, 2016. "
How can others participate?
"There are several ways your church can be part of a growing witness of love and care for these children. Below are some ways you and your church can help! Along with basic essentials, the children and their sponsor immigrant families are in need of loving people to provide personal support and court accountability.
OUTREACH TO CENTRAL AMERICAN REFUGEE CHILDREN IN LOS ANGELES:
• Organize a gift card drive in your church for grocery store gift cards ($25 amounts) and Metro Passes ($25 amounts), and/or donate to our emergency fund.
• Volunteer in LA County Courts to witness removal proceedings through our Guardian Angels Program.
• Volunteer to participate in outings and build relationships with refugee children through our Companionship Program.
• Be involved in advocacy.
• Sign up to receive updates for letter-writing actions and visits to legislators.
• If you are an attorney, regardless of what kind of law you practice, we need you! "
We are called to be a light in the darkness, to be hope in the midst of unspeakable suffering. Please join us in this life-giving kingdom work in the name of Jesus. Thank you.
Rev. Heidi Worthen Gamble,
Mission Catalyst, Pacific Presbytery