"Laws Aren't Perfect" - A Call to Mercy, Pt. 4

For two weeks, Honduran-born U.S. immigration attorney Killa M. will share her reflections on life in Honduras and on showing mercy to unaccompanied children in "A Call to Mercy", a four-part LSG blog series. Click to read parts one, two, and three.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Lutheran Services of Georgia

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When people tell me that unaccompanied children broke the law and, as such, should not be shown mercy, I tell them that laws aren’t perfect and they don’t always reflect current societal realities. There are very few forms of immigration relief available for these minors. One of them is asylum. To succeed in an asylum claim, a person must show a well-founded fear of persecution based on a protected ground such as race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group (an ever-changing concept that is applied differently depending on the justice circuit where the case is being heard). The person must demonstrate that they are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin, or that they are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country. This seems like a straightforward concept, but that could not be further from the truth. I could write a dissertation on the complexity of American asylum law, but suffice it to say, our current asylum policy was not drafted to deal with the kind of generalized violence that now reigns in Honduras. To quote the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Delgado Ortiz v. Holder, “Asylum is not available to victims of indiscriminate violence, unless they are singled out on account of a protected ground.” So what can you do when your life is constantly in danger for any reason, or no reason at all?

The limited availability of asylum is reflected in the fact that in 2013, only 3.9 percent of the Honduran asylum claims that came before U.S. Immigration Courts were granted. Seems like an awfully small percentage given that it is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

Even when you present a prima facie case in the U.S. legal system, it is not guaranteed that the law will be applied properly. For example, my brother, an attorney working closely with my mother, sought asylum in the U.S. after our mother was murdered. He presented evidence of the murder and of the fact that, since our mother’s death, he had been followed and harassed on multiple occasions. He also presented documentation from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights requesting that the Honduran government investigate the murder and provide protection to my brother. He presented the Honduran government’s response that it was unwilling and unable to provide that protection. He presented affidavits from prosecutors, judges, security experts, and fellow attorneys testifying that he would surely suffer harm if he remained in Honduras. He asked the U.S. Military Attaché assigned to Honduras to testify to the violent living conditions in Honduras. Finally, he presented evidence that, in 2013 alone, 53 attorneys had been murdered in Honduras. His case was denied because, among other reasons, “[he] had failed to show that any future harm [he] feared is on account of one of the protected characteristics.” If an educated adult, with an objective fear of death, hundreds of pages of evidence, and adequate legal counsel was unable to receive this form of relief, how do you think an unaccompanied child will fare in the U.S. legal system?

For these reasons, I beg you not to turn a blind eye to what is happening at the border with these children. I don’t know exactly how to solve the crisis in Honduras or how to reform immigration laws to ensure protection of these children while slowing the influx of arrivals. I have some ideas, but that is a conversation for another day. For now, I know that we, as Christians, are responsible for showing mercy to these young kids who have already seen more tragedy than most people ever will in their entire lives. There are many ways to help, from volunteering to foster an unaccompanied child to writing a letter to your Senator about the issue. Whatever you do, don’t remain silent.

If you have questions about this blog series or for Killa, please contact Abi Koning, Communications Coordinator, at akoning@lsga.org.

"Why You Should Care" - A Call to Mercy, Pt. 3

For two weeks, U.S. immigration attorney and Honduran native Killa M. will share her reflections on life in Honduras and on showing mercy to unaccompanied children in "A Call to Mercy", a four-part LSG blog series. Click to read part one and part two.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Lutheran Services of Georgia.

Photo Credit: Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services

I’m not a sociologist, nor have I studied the development of violent crime as an academic subject. If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re already aware that Honduras is known as the “Murder Capital of the World”. According to the most recent UN study, the murder rate in Honduras is 90 out of 100,000 people. In second place by a large margin is Venezuela with 43 per 100,000 people. By comparison, the rate in the U.S. is currently close to 5 per 100,000 people.

Nevertheless, I’m not writing this article to give you an in-depth analysis of all the factors contributing to the violence that might cause a child to migrate. All I am offering is my personal experience: what I’ve lived through, what I’ve seen, and the stories of my friends, family, and those I serve. I wrote this article to help you understand why children arriving at our doorsteps need mercy, and why you should care. Should people in the United States share responsibility for the fact that the Honduran government is corrupt and the country overrun by drug lords? Should Americans take some responsibility for the fact that people’s lives are at risk in Honduras? It is noteworthy that the United States is the world’s largest consumer of cocaine and a major consumer of many other drugs. Every ounce snorted by Americans is tainted with the blood of innocent people that die because that garbage is trafficked through our land. However, that is just one factor, albeit a significant one, that drives violence in Honduras. Yet I believe that, if you are a follower of Christ, your reaction should not hinge on whether or not you had “anything to do with” causing the violence. Instead, if you are a follower of Christ, you should desire to be merciful like our Father is merciful.

God is not impressed with our lofty acts of sacrifice, or how often we go to church, or how many hours we spend in prayer. In Hosea 6:6, God tells us that he desires mercy, not sacrifice. Near and dear to God’s heart especially are the widow, the orphan, and the alien. James 6:27 explains that “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Moreover, Deuteronomy 10:18 says of God: “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.”

It is appalling to me that people in the church would remain silent in the face of such injustice and distress. It’s shocking to see people who claim to be followers of Christ traveling to the border to yell unwelcoming and insulting words at children. Many people come to me and say, “But they broke the law! Doesn’t God command us to obey our local authorities?” To answer that question, I look at the Bible and the U.S. legal system. While Romans 13 does command Christians to abide by the law, this commandment cannot be taken out of context. In all of history there have been laws all over the world that fall short or are contrary to God’s law. Let’s remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—three law breakers who refused to bow down to an egotistical king because it went against God’s command to worship no one aside from him. You cannot ignore God’s law simply to honor human-made laws.

Check back on Thursday, September 25, for part four of "A Call to Mercy". Click to read part one and part two. If you have questions about this blog series or for Killa, please contact Abi Koning, Communications Coordinator, at akoning@lsga.org.

"Even a Child Knows it's Better to Leave" - A Call to Mercy, Pt. 2

For two weeks,Honduran-born U.S. immigration attorney Killa M. will share her reflections on life in Honduras and on showing mercy to unaccompanied children in "A Call to Mercy", a four-part LSG blog series. To read part one, click here.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Lutheran Services of Georgia.

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As a grieving daughter, I know the horror that children coming to the U.S. from Central America are escaping. Through my work within the immigration field, I have heard stories from children who have come to the U.S. after seeing their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends raped, beaten, and murdered.

I’ve listened to a young lady tell me how she heard her neighbors being hacked to death. The next morning, she found the pieces of their bodies stuffed into their old television set. Another young man recounted the story of his brother being beaten in the streets and ultimately killed in front of him because he refused to join a gang. One of my closest friends suffered the loss of her cousin, a bright young woman who was just starting med school. She was murdered after resisting a kidnapping attempt. Last year, while visiting my family members in Honduras, my sister received a death threat which forced us to go into hiding. We left the country the very next day. My brother, also an attorney, was constantly followed and harassed to the point where he feared for his life and came to the U.S. seeking asylum. One of my Honduran friends put his hopelessness into words: “I would rather have been born a dog in any other place than a man in this forsaken country.” In our country, no one knows, no one hears, no one investigates, and no one is held responsible.

Currently, people in Honduras endure levels of violence that people in the U.S. would not tolerate for even a single day. In 2008, three years prior to the attack that led to her death, my mother was shot, but she survived. After that attack, she hired a bodyguard, which served no purpose other than to add to the death toll that horrible November afternoon. Like her, many in Honduras who can afford to do so will hire bodyguards and buy bullet-proof vehicles, just like in a war zone, and hope for the best. It’s a sad sight to see a 12-year-old walking through the mall with her friends, followed by armed men in bullet-proof vests. What kind of life is that? And what about those who live in poverty, who can’t afford to keep their children safe? The violence doesn’t discriminate. It’s obvious; even a child know it’s better to leave.

Check back on Tuesday, September 23, for part three of "A Call to Mercy". To read part one, click here. If you have questions about this blog series or for Killa, please contact Abi Koning, Communications Coordinator, at akoning@lsga.org.


"I Am One of the Lucky Ones" - A Call to Mercy, Pt. 1

For the next two weeks, Honduran-born U.S. immigration attorney Killa M. will share her reflections on life in Honduras and on showing mercy to unaccompanied children in "A Call to Mercy", a four-part LSG blog series.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Lutheran Services of Georgia.


I came to the United States from Honduras on a student visa when I was 17 years old, just a month shy of my 18th birthday. I wanted to get the best college education so I could return home and work in the Honduran tourism industry or perhaps at the “Cancillería” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). I wanted a job that would allow me to share my country’s beauty and potential with the world.

My mother always reminded me that, after graduation, I was to return to Honduras and use my foreign-acquired skills to benefit my home country. However, a few weeks before she was murdered, while I was in my second year of law school, she told me something she had never said before: “Stay where you are. Don’t come back to this country. There is nothing left here for you.”

My mother, Judith Aleman Banegas, was a well-respected attorney. During her 30-year-long career as an attorney she successfully took on all kinds of cases, from child custody disputes to complex international business transactions. Anyone who knew my mother recognized that she possessed a brilliant legal mind. As a woman in a very chauvinist society, my mother was nevertheless able to excel and surpass most men in her field. Her intelligence was overshadowed only by her humility and kindness.

My mother loved nothing more than to help individuals with no access to the limited Honduran legal system. Consequently, she fought for the rights of low-income women and their children. She was the kind of person who would watch the evening news and be so moved by someone’s plight that she would call the news station and offer her services pro bono. She was a fierce advocate for transparency in the courts and was openly critical in the media about corrupt government officials who manipulated and abused the legal system.

To this day, I don’t know who killed my mother. I have no idea who ordered or paid to have her killed. All I know is that, on the afternoon of November 7, 2011, five heavily armed men intercepted her car. They killed my mother, her bodyguard and her secretary. My mother left me and my two siblings behind. Her bodyguard had two kids. Her secretary was a single mother of a 9-month-old baby girl.

If you feel bad for me, don’t. I am one of the lucky ones. I didn’t see my mother die. I didn’t hear her scream. I was never harassed or beaten. I didn’t have to walk the streets of my neighborhood wondering when my turn to die would come. Many of the children fleeing to the U.S. from Honduras are not as lucky as I am.

Check back on Thursday, September 18, for part two of "A Call to Mercy". If you have questions about this blog series or for Killa, please contact Abi Koning, Communications Coordinator, at akoning@lsga.org.

LSG Hosts Summit For Our Children

IMG_1392 On August 12, 2014, Lutheran Services of Georgia hosted the Summit For Our Children. Organized by the Alterna Community and convened by Alterna co-founder Anton Flores-Maisonet, the Summit For Our Children was a compassionate, just, and timely response to the crises of unaccompanied children and the children of immigrant parents, especially mothers, who are detained or deported.

Representatives of eleven groups and organizations traveled to downtown Atlanta to exchange resources and ideas for responding to the needs of migrant children. Participants included Access to Law Foundation, Alterna, Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment, Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services, Covenant House of Georgia, Dekalb County Schools, DHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, Jubilee Partners, Lutheran Services of Georgia, and Welcoming America.

LSG’s President and CEO Floyd R. Blair welcomed the participants and Anton shared his motivations for organizing the summit. Through showing hospitality, the Alterna Community is intimately connected with the struggles of immigrants in the United States. Anton expressed that, over the past several years, Alterna has become increasingly concerned with how current immigration policies harm vulnerable families and children. He wanted to bring together passionate, concerned people to develop a cohesive response to this crisis.

Each group described their current work with and knowledge of migrant children. What emerged was a picture of the diverse array of services already available, including legal representation and consultations for unaccompanied children, short-term and long-term foster care, alternatives to detention, houses of hospitality for immigrants and refugees, local and national advocacy efforts, trauma services, and more.

Attendees formed three discussion groups to explore opportunities for collaboration. Together, they brainstormed ways to educate the community about migrant children, provide housing and support services, and mobilize faith-based and other communities for action. Each group presented their ideas and began making the necessary plans to make those ideas a reality.

Participants in the Summit For Our Children recognized that responding effectively to the needs of vulnerable populations requires continued dialogue and collaboration. LSG thanks Anton Flores-Maisonet and the Alterna Community for bringing together groups and organizations committed to supporting migrant children.

Click here to see more photos from the Summit.

How You Can Support Unaccompanied Children

UAC This year, the United States anticipates that over 90,000 children will cross the border unaccompanied. The majority of these children are fleeing violence in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.  Lutheran Services of Georgia has already been in communication with the Office of Refugee Resettlement regarding this humanitarian and refugee crisis. We recognize that these children are making a courageous, dangerous journey to escape desperate situations back home. Our commitment to serve those in need compels us to provide safety, care, and welcome for this vulnerable population. Our experience bringing hope, healing, and strength to children and families through specialized foster care and other programs prepares us to assist in any way we are asked.

In order to empower you  to join us in taking action, we have compiled the following list of ways you can support unaccompanied children. Please share this list with all those who have a heart for welcome.

LEARN: Supporting unaccompanied children begins with awareness of their situation. In the midst of so much misinformation and discrimination towards these children, spreading accurate information and compassionate perspectives on the crisis is crucial. Check out and share the following resources with those looking to learn more.

  1. "It Was Either This or Be Murdered" - Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America reflects on his visit to a facility housing unaccompanied children.
  2. "U.S. Religious Leaders Embrace Cause of Immigrant Children" - This piece from the New York Times examines the ways that religious leaders around the country are supporting unaccompanied children.
  3. "LIRS, Partners Respond to Immigrant-Children Crisis" - This article from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod emphasizes over 45 Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service  (LIRS) partners that are providing care and services for unaccompanied children.
  4. LIRS Responds to Crisis at the Border: Lutheran Immigration and Refuge Service's website includes FAQs and reports about the crisis, along with opportunities for action.
  5. "Our Journey to Children at the Border" - Rev. Stephen Bouman, Executive Director of ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission,  shares his experience visiting unaccompanied children along the border.
  6. "Everything You Need to Know About the Child and Family Migrant Crisis" - This frequently updated piece from Vox will answer several of your questions related to the crisis.
  7. "Children on the Run" - This United Nations report is based on 400 interviews with unaccompanied alien children and provides a comprehensive analysis on the reasons they are fleeing Central America.

GIVE: There are several organizations reaching out to unaccompanied children, but they need your support. Here are two possibilities for giving.

  1. Give to Lutheran Disaster Response by listing "Unaccompanied Children" as your designated gift. All donations will go directly towards supporting unaccompanied children.
  2. Give to Kids in Need of Defense, an organization that provides unaccompanied children with legal representation to argue their cases.
  3. Give to help LIRS support children, advocate for all immigrants, and support newly arrived refugees.

WELCOME: LSG is committed to welcoming unaccompanied children. Join us in welcome.

  1. Become a Household of Welcome. LIRS's Households of Welcome provide a community-based alternative to detention for unaccompanied children and migrant families.
  2. Write a Letter. They Are Children is collecting compassionate and encouraging letters to welcome unaccompanied children to the U.S.

ADVOCATE: Policies have a direct impact on the lives of these children. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services offers a number of advocacy opportunities on their website.

  1. Join the #ActofLove campaign and ask Congress to respond to unaccompanied children with humanitarian solutions.
  2. Contact your representatives through the LIRS Action Center.
  • Ask the government not to expedite deportations.
  • Treat this as a refugee crisis.
  • Request Congress to allocate $3.7 million in emergency supplemental funds.
  • Ask Congress not to revoke the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act that protects children at the border.

PRAY: Support unaccompanied children through prayer.

  1. The Bible includes several passages about flight and welcoming the stranger. Consider reading the flight into Egypt, Moses in the basket, the Good Samaritan, or the parable of the Sheep and the Goats.
  2. World Vision wrote a prayer for the children, government, and aid organizations during this crisis.
  3. Sing this new hymn inspired by the unaccompanied children crisis.

If you would like to suggest another resource or share a personal story of supporting unaccompanied children, please contact Abi Koning at akoning@lsga.org. Thank you for joining us in welcome.


Urgent: Raise Your Voice for Refugees and Unaccompanied Children!

Poverty_Girl_artLutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and Lutheran Services of Georgia are calling for supporters of refugees and unaccompanied children to join us in raising our voices to advocate for these vulnerable populations.

The Situation:  Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children are fleeing ongoing violence in the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras and seeking shelter in the United States. These children have been forced to endure conditions that lack compassion and dignity, including sleeping on floors in Border Patrol stations. The numbers are growing drastically–in Fiscal Year 2014, over 60,000 additional children are expected to cross into the U.S. On July 20, 2014, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) announced that they were planning to “reprogram” 94 million dollars from refugee resettlement to respond to this crisis.

The Problem: Refugee programs are already underfunded. Taking funding from refugee resettlement would hollow out existing services, including access to medical and employment assistance for already resettled refugees and those who have yet to arrive. Refugees will not receive the help they need and have been promised to adjust to life in their new communities. The United States cannot help one vulnerable population by hurting another.

The Response: LIRS is calling on Congress and the Obama Administration to allocate $200 million in emergency supplemental funds for the ORR during the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years. This will allow ORR to both reinstate critical programs for refugees and care for unaccompanied children.

How You Can Help:  Join LIRS and LSG in raising your voice! Congress is in recess from June 30 to July 7, so your emails and phone calls are needed right now. Don’t know what to say? That’s alright – LIRS has provided a sample script for a phone call and an email template.

To call, dial (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected with your two Senators and your Representative. Here is a sample script you can use to tailor your personal message, describing your own work or relationships with refugees, unaccompanied children, and other vulnerable migrants.

Hi, my name is [NAME], from [City, State] May I please speak with the staff person who handles appropriations issues?

I am calling to urge the [SENATOR OR REPRESENTATIVE] to support increased funding for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement by $200 million in FY 2014 so they can meet the needs of both unaccompanied children and refugees. A lack of additional funding would compromise America’s ability to provide persecuted refugees and vulnerable unaccompanied children with safe haven and a chance at a new life. Funding for this program is an investment in the safety and self-sufficiency of people we welcome to American communities. Please ensure that Congress appropriates supplemental funding at least in $200 million in FY 14 and at least $3.3 billion in funding for HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement for FY 2015.

If you’d prefer to send an email, click here for an easy-to-use email template that will go straight to your Congressmen’s offices.

Spread the Word: You can also spread awareness about this issue by sharing this information via email and social media. One way to spread the word is to tweet at your Senators or Representative.  Find their Twitter Handles athttps://twitter.com/cspan/lists/members-of-congress and urge them to increase their funds for ORR. Try tweeting:

  • @[their twitter handle] Increase funding for ORR by $200mil to meet needs of unaccompanied children & #refugees #UACs
  • @[their twitter handle] Please support $200mil for ORR to maintain US #refugee resettlement program & support unaccomp children #UACs
  • @[their twitter handle] @HHSgov ORR needs funding to ensure unaccompanied children & #refugees receive services they need & deserve #UACs

Thanks for joining us in ensuring that both refugees and unaccompanied children receive the care and support that they need to thrive!