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Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

CONTACT: Susan Baukhages, Director for Communications, 410/230-2791 fax: 410/230-2890, email:


BALTIMORE, December 12, 2003-The nationally recognized Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) unaccompanied refugee minor (URM) foster care network is now serving children and youth in federal custody.

Each year U.S. immigration officials take into custody approximately 5,000 children who have entered the country without parents or caregivers and without visas. Foster care is particularly important for those children who face months or years in immigration proceedings. Many of these children have no viable option for reunification with their families. Some are orphans fleeing civil war, street children seeking safety or older youth seeking work to support their families back home.

Through the Homeland Security Act of 2002 Congress transferred the care and custody of undocumented unaccompanied minors in federal custody to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services. The U.S. URM program has served thousands of refugee children since its inception by ORR in 1979. LIRS is one of two national agencies that offer this specialized foster care, working with local licensed foster care agencies to provide comprehensive services to refugees, asylees, trafficking victims and now undocumented children.

In April ORR established the Division of Unaccompanied Children's Services (DUCS) and made a cooperative agreement with LIRS to provide foster care, assessment and placement services and assist in the development of national standards and procedures. LIRS has co-sponsored two national gatherings with URM network staff to identify service needs and better ways to meet them. Since April ORR has referred 20 minors to LIRS for foster care.

"This is a whole new way of doing business!" said LIRS Director for Children's Services Susan Krehbiel. "Under ORR's leadership, there is a definite shift from the enforcement mindset of the past to a safe haven mindset. This is the beginning of a two to three year transition into a totally new system of assessing and serving unaccompanied minors of which I am proud to be a part. Our direct service partners are grateful for the change, too."

LIRS's seven foster care affiliates are now working to enhance their current services to address the special needs of undocumented youth. The programs are committed to developing the necessary support for the children and foster parents to ensure that these children have as many opportunities as others in their care. As Mary Bartholomew, URM foster care program manager for Lutheran Community Services of Southern New England's Worcester, Mass., office, put it, "We realize that the gifts and support that we have to offer may be for a briefer moment in time. We try to offer everything to these youth that we offer to refugees and asylees. So if they must return to their home countries, at least we have had the opportunity to strengthen them. And they return stronger and healthier physically, emotionally and educationally than they arrived."