The Shepherd Project© will coordinate compassionate legal, support to the unaccompanied alien children (UAC) arriving in our community after having fled their homes in Central America. The decision to leave their homes and endure a perilous journey to the U.S. is not one that was made lightly, but was made as a last resort. T
hese children have fled countries with some of the highest murder rates in the world. They went to sleep to the sounds of gunfire, not a nightly bedtime story. Young women were virtual prisoners in their homes because they feared rape or kidnapping in the streets. And over it all, poverty reigned supreme.
Having survived the journey into the U.S. and been reunited with family in North Carolina, a new set of legal, financial, and emotional issues await them. Formal removal proceedings have already begun in immigration court. An estimated 65% of these children have viable claims that could allow them to remain and thrive in the United States. Most of their families, however, cannot afford a lawyer; few attorneys handle the cases pro bono, because of the substantial preparation needed, not to mention cultural and language barriers. And they join an already backlogged and overburdened immigration system incapable of meeting the additional need. These children should be exposed to the heart of Christian love during their time in America however short it may be.
The risk is high: If this need continues to remain unaddressed many of these children will fall through the cracks and potentially create a substantial burden to the community, at risk of being trafficked, enslaved, or victims of child labor, abuse and/or gang involvement. In a bitter twist of irony, they could fall prey to many of the same threats that forced them to flee their homes in the first place.
CIR believes that there is a moral responsibility to help these children, using a holistic, community-based approach to meet their legal, emotional, and financial needs in resolving their current situation. The Shepherd Project© consists of 3 major parts:
1. Helping families
navigate the legal system with preliminary intake, case management, and initial steps before connecting them with a pro bono immigration lawyer (Legal Shepherd);
financial assistance (Financial Shepherd) with coordination of legal system, fees as well as travel expenses to the EOIR Court in Charlotte (for both families and their attorneys);
3. Assigning each child a trained
Compassion Shepherd who will help meet their emotional needs and may accompany them through the court process.
Over the next two years, 200 children in the Raleigh/Durham area will receive approximately $8000 each in legal support and services through the Shepherd Project©, at a cost of only $2,500 per child.
This is a community-wide initiative. CIR is relying on our close ties with the faith community, training those who already have a background in caregiving to act as Compassion Shepherds. The Shepherd Project© will educate and engage Christians in a Biblical response to immigration, offering a practical way to minister to the immigrant community. The project is also closely designed with the legal community to increase capacity for pro bono representation (Legal Shepherds) and mitigate the already crippling backlog in the immigration legal system. Ultimately, we hope to use our experience working in the Triangle as a model to expand the Shepherd Project© across NC and potentially, nationwide.