A coalition of City and County leaders and private non-profits devoted to child welfare is standing ready to assist in the crisis of unaccompanied refugee children streaming across our country's borders, by foot, by the tens of thousands, and at many times the normal rate of such immigration in recent years.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its Office of Refugee Resettlement are the agencies responsible for the welfare of these children. They say the children have come to the United States in growing numbers for many reasons:
- To escape violence, abuse or persecution in their home countries;
- To find family members already residing in the United States; and
- Because they were brought to the United States by human trafficking rings.
The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement wants to organize centers across the nation to provide temporary shelter and care for these children - many of whom have been traumatized and physically victimized before and during their journey.
St. Louis has now formally offered to provide shelter and care for 60 or so unaccompanied refugee children.
The children can be expected to be in St. Louis, on average, for between 30 to 35 days under the Office of Refugee Resettlement program. During that time, the children are stabilized, as preparations are made to unite them with family members living in the United States. In some cases children may be placed with foster parents, while their immigration status is being decided. As a child moves to relatives or a foster family, a new child would be accepted in her place.
Earlier this month, I asked my staff a question: Does St. Louis have the compassion and capacity to extend hospitality to children who are not our own?
Late last week, they brought me their answer: Emphatically, yes.
We have sought assistance from Catholic Charities of St. Louis, the United Way of Greater St. Louis, the Incarnate Word Foundation of St. Louis, and a coalition of women religious.
We have sought assistance from Washington University in St. Louis and its George Warren Brown School of Social Work, as well as from Casa de Salud, a leading provider of clinical and mental health services to refugees and other new immigrants in our community.
The response has been heartening.
St. Louisans are generous. When people are in need, we step up -- as a community and as individuals. We have done it many times, in many ways. It is our time to step up again.