Migrant children caught in the limbo of current United States immigration policy are getting a hand from an unlikely partnership of the Catholic and Lutheran churches in Philadelphia.
Catholic Social Services (CSS) of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Lutheran Children and Family Services (LCFS) are set to welcome a dozen unaccompanied minors who have made the journey alone from abroad to the U.S. while they await a determination of their legal status.
St. Francis-St. Joseph-St. Vincent Homes, CSS’s residential program in Bensalem for adolescents, has set up 12 beds in its group-home setting and will begin accepting the youths Sept. 1.
LCFS already provides foreign refugees in the region with counseling, employment services and assistance for unaccompanied minors.
“Until now, kids went to foster care with families,” said James Amato, deputy secretary for Catholic Social Services. “They (LCFS) turned to Catholic Social Services because of our long history of providing group care. They asked us to open a group home for 12 adolescent boys.”
CSS will provide residential care, life skills training and help the boys integrate into the community, while LCFS will handle case management, Amato explained. CSS will also help the boys study for their high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) certificate.
Last year the U.S. saw a major surge in unaccompanied young people arriving from Central America. Estimates ranged from 60,000 to 90,000 children who left their countries due to gangs, violence and poverty.
Many of the boys who will participate in the new local program are from Central America, Amato said.
When undocumented children arrive in the United States they typically are in a “holding situation” for a period of time, Amato explained. If the minors are returned to their country, “it puts them at great risk,” he said.
If they are not deported it is because a judge “deemed that it would lead to abuse, neglect, or gang violence,” Amato said, “so they are referred to Lutheran, and then they come to us.”
The boys in the residential program range from 15 to 18 years old. “They’ve been judicially reviewed before they enter our program, and the boys will stay until age 21,” Amato said.
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