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Catholic Charities SWO assists unaccompanied minors

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In this handout photo courtesy of the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, unaccompanied migrant children are shown at a Department of Health and Human Services facility in south Texas. . Many undocumented minors coming across the U.S. border claim they are escaping gang violence in their home countries. (CNS photo/ handout, Reuters) (June 16, 2014) See UNACCOMPANIED June 16, 2014.
In this handout photo courtesy of the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, unaccompanied migrant children are shown at a Department of Health and Human Services facility in south Texas. (CNS photo/ handout, Reuters)

By John Stegeman
The Catholic Telegraph

“Since 2014, at least 270 children who entered the U.S. without an adult guardian have arrived in Hamilton County alone. This does not include those who may have avoided encounters with border guards or arrived in surrounding counties.”

This startling fact, provided by literature from Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio (CCSWO), has prompted the agency to act. Working with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, CCSWO can provide legal aid for up to 50 children at a rate of just $1,000 per case. In addition to helping with representation, an agreement with Catholic Charities of Cleveland helped the unaccompanied minors travel from Hamilton County to Cleveland, where the immigration court is located.

Kelly Ancrhum, director of communications and marketing for CCSWO said the reason many children end up here is that a relative lives in the area, though that relative is typically not a legal guardian.

The purpose of CCSWO’s legal assistance is not necessarily to avoid deportation, but to ensure basic rights.

“The purpose is to ensure that their legal and human rights are protected,” Anchrum said. “Every case is unique, but children who go to court without legal advice don’t have a fair chance.”

CCSWO has done much of this work with a single emergency caseworker, but the agency continues to seek support and funding.

While helping these children navigate the American legal system, CCSWO provides for their needs as well.

“These children are fleeing neglect, poverty and violence in their home country,” said Ted Bergh, CEO of CCSWO. “Their experiences are disturbing and their lives are at risk as they are seek asylum to lead normal lives. Catholic Charities is providing basic needs like beds and clothes, counseling to overcome violence induced trauma, and legal immigration services to provide protection based on U.S. immigration law. Welcoming the stranger and giving shelter to the homeless are core elements to living as a Catholic community. No child is disposable. Please pray for these children so we all have a part in assuring their safety.”

In addition to helping these children with their own concerns, CCSWO is helping to tell their stories.

One such minor, Carlos*, is 17. The year before beginning high school he was on a bus home. The bus was stopped by a local gang which proceeded to murder the bus driver and rob everyone on the bus. His father and mother had already arrived in the United States and he was responsible for his grandparent’s care.

One day he was taken from school by men he didn’t know and told to sell drugs. After refusing and being threatened, he told his grandfather he was too scared to return to school. His grandfather insisted he return to get an education. Carlos did return, and the men found him and beat him severely.

With the blessing of his grandfather, Carlos and 12 other teens left Guatemala together for the United States. They made it. Carlos is currently a student at a Cincinnati public high school

Other stories from Guatemalan immigrants tell a similar tale. Widespread violence and fear, and sometimes a desire to reunite with family already in the United States, motivate them to leave their home in search of a better life.

*Name has been changed.

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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