UUFHC Response to the

Humanitarian Crisis on the Border



We have all been deeply moved by the images of the young mothers, children and adolescents arriving at our southern border. We understand that these people have undertaken the terrible journey north to flee the drug related violence and political repression in their home countries.  They are refugees and we welcome them with open arms. We also grieve for those who have died trying to reach safety.

This webpage is designed to serve as a resource for Unitarian Universalist congregations from around the country, as well as other interested parties, who wish to learn more about the current refugee crisis we are experiencing on the border. We have included a summary of the issue, a list of resources, and information about UUFHC’s response and what you can do to help.



After seeing confusing reports in the media, we thought it would be useful to break down the process different groups of migrants go through after their apprehension by U.S. authorities. We have also attached a few insightful articles (see links below) for further comprehension of this crisis.

Whenever an undocumented migrant is caught or apprehended at the border by Border Patrol, he or she is taken to a Border Patrol processing station. Migrants refer to such processing stations as hieleras, or “ice boxes,” and they are meant to house migrants very briefly as they are processed. These facilities house detainees for up to than 48 hours, before they are either released (families), deported/returned (Mexicans), sent to adult immigration detention (adults) or to an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelter (unaccompanied kids). No hot food, showers, soup or clean clothes are provided at those facilities, and they are known for being horribly cold. At the worst moment of this crisis (June), migrants were kept at those facilities for an average of 10 days, with some up to 20 days, as they awaited processing.  Many of the first images leaked to the media show these facilities overcrowded. In response, the federal government has recently opened a warehouse in Nogales, AZ, and plans to open another one in Mcallen, TX, to try to address the overcrowding of BP processing stations and process migrants within its 48-hour mandate. In many BP processing stations, AmeriCorps volunteers are assisting with child care so that Border patrol agents may focus on processing migrants.

At the hielera, BP triages and processes all migrants. Those who are unaccompanied kids -- that means, kids caught without an adult relative whose relationship to the child can be proven by birth certificates -- are sorted out between Mexican and non-Mexican. Mexicans usually are not processed. Instead, they are returned expeditiously, usually within 48 hours. Kids who are non-Mexican are turned in to a shelter facility run by ORR, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. In those shelters, social workers contact their families and arrange for their reunification with a relative or a family friend. There are also specialized facilities for very young kids, kids with criminal charges, and those with special needs.

According to the TVPRA, an anti-trafficking bill approved by President Bush in 2008, unaccompanied migrant children (who are not Mexican) have the right to be reunified with their families and the right to due process. Once reunified, kids and families have to find a lawyer and navigate the immigration court system on their own, as well as face bureaucratic, linguistic (e.g., Guatemalan indigenous kids who speak little or no Spanish)  and economic barriers to access public school (lack of documents) and health care (especially pressing for pregnant migrant girls). Mexican unaccompanied minors, before being expeditiously returned, should in theory be screened by Border Patrol or a Customs and Border Protection officer for any red flags related to fear of persecution in Mexico. However, it has been repeatedly observed that such screenings do not happen consistently and Mexican unaccompanied children who fear for their lives are more likely to be returned to Mexico than to be placed under ORR custody.

The Department of Homeland Security, over the years, has built nearly no detention space for families; however, there is much discussion about a new detention center being built in New Mexico that would be dedicated exclusively to detain families waiting for their return/deportation. So far, whenever a family unit is detained (parent + biological children), they are processed expeditiously and released at the local bus stations. Many of the most recent images in the media have been of families who are dropped off by DHS at bus stations after being detained for 2 or 3 days (or even longer) at hieleras. Upon arriving in their new cities, these families will have to report to a DHS office, where they will be given a court date. In many border cities, local communities have stepped up to the task of providing basic medical care, food, a shower, and basic travel supplies for those families as they wait between a few hours to a whole day in order to catch their bus. These volunteers often assist families in contacting their U.S. relatives, too.

Adults who are detained without a child of their own are processed and sent to adult detention. 90% of detention facilities for adult immigrants have no legal service provider – in other words, no one to explain to them the labyrinth that is our immigration justice system. In those facilities, adult detainees can request bond, be released through an order of recognizance (without bond), be returned/deported, or fight their case while detained.  For migrating adults without children, business is as usual -- there is no shortage of detention beds for this population, as many have been provided by private contractors, as well as state and county jails.

While many of the images in the media are shocking and inspire action, local border communities are stepping up to the challenge. These kids and families, however, have difficult obstacles awaiting them in their new cities throughout the U.S. As Unitarian Universalists, Americans, and humans, it is important to educate ourselves about the current Central American Refugee Crisis, pressure our representatives and government to act responsibly and compassionately, and most importantly, support these refugees in our communities.




  • Participating in the recently-formed Human Rights Coalition of South Texas
  • Learning and sharing information about the Central American refugee crisis
  • Donations:  google for “border crisis donations” and choose you’re an organization
  • Exploring possibilities for binational partnerships to address the refugee crisis on a long-term basis.

We also worked alongside numerous community organizations and committed individuals to hold an interfaith vigil and commemoration demonstrating compassion and support for refugees. The vigil took place on July 19 in Mcallen, TX.


Check out the following links to view videos, photos, and media coverage:


Meditation on the Refugee Crisis written by UUFHC Member Ashley Hodgson and presented at the 7/19 vigil

YouTube video highlighting various moments from the vigil

Event summary and photos by Daniella Marrero, journalism student

Photo gallery of the event from the Human Rights Coalition of South Texas

Telemundo coverage (TV)

KGBT coverage (TV)

Think Progress coverage (article)



  • Check out the Resource List on this page to learn more about the issue and promote ongoing learning about the issue within your congregation.
  •  “Like” / follow the Humanity is Borderless campaign on Facebook and other forms of social media; this is a locally-grown campaign with involvement from members of UUFHC.
  • Reach out to UUFHC if you are interested in collaborating to address this issue.



Child migrants flooding the U.S. border: a guide to the issues: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/child-migrants-flooding-the-u-s-border-a-guide-to-the-issues-1.2701489

Understanding the origins of the current influx of Central American refugees:

The Children of the Drug Wars, by Sonia Nazareno (author of Enrique’s Journey): http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/13/opinion/sunday/a-refugee-crisis-not-an-immigration-crisis.html?emc=edit_th_20140713&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=17452404&_r=0

Children at the Border, Another U.S. Foreign Policy Debacle, by William Boardman: http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/24739-children-at-the-border-another-us-foreign-policy-debacle

Children of the Dirty War, by Devon G. Peña: http://mexmigration.blogspot.com/2014/06/state-of-exception-ann-coulters.html

Debunking 8 Myths About Why Central American Children Are Migrating, by David Bacon: http://inthesetimes.com/article/16919/8_reasons_u.s._trade_and_immigration_policies_have_caused_migration_from_ce

Recent Lawsuits led by ACLU and other NGOs related to the refugee crisis:

"Welcome to Hell:" The Border Patrol's Repeated Abuse of Children by James Lyall: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-lyall/welcome-to-hell-the-borde_b_5527967.html

The Immigrant Kids Suing America (on the lack of legal assistance to child migrants), by Caitlin Dickson http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/11/child-immigrants-sue-u-s-for-right-to-legal-counsel.html

Overall view of the crisis:

How the US’s Foreign Policy Created an Immigrant Refugee Crisis on Its Own Southern Border, by James North:  http://www.thenation.com/article/180578/how-uss-foreign-policy-created-immigrant-refugee-crisis-its-own-southern-border#

Where are the ORR shelters located?

This Is Where the Government Houses the Tens of Thousands of Kids Who Get Caught Crossing the Border, by Ian Gordon: http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2014/06/surge-unaccompanied-child-migrant-shelters

Challenges faced by migrant kids in the US:

70,000 Kids Will Show Up Alone at Our Border This Year. What Happens to Them? by Ian Gordon: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/06/child-migrants-surge-unaccompanied-central-america

Challenges faced by migrant kids once they are deported: