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Unaccompanied Central American children wait to be processed in a temporary shelter.

Unaccompanied Central American children wait to be processed in a temporary shelter.

Thousands of Central American children crossing the border illegally could soon turn into asylum seekers armed with immigration lawyers provided by church groups and paid for by federal tax dollars.

WND reported Friday that Catholic Charities USA and other religious groups were working behind the scenes with the federal government to temporarily house and resettle the children in dozens of communities across the United States.

Catholic Charities is running a fundraising campaign to help finance the resettlement of the illegal aliens, WND reported. But the religious charities get the bulk of their funding not from private donors or church members putting checks into a basket. They get it from the federal government.

Alexandria, Va.-based Catholic Charities USA reported receiving $1.7 million in government grants in 2012, according to its IRS Form 990.

But one of the largest recipients of government funds to resettle immigrant children is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB helps resettle not only unaccompanied alien children, or UACs, who enter the country illegally but also refugees fleeing persecution overseas who enter through legal channels.

The USCCB is one of nine agencies that receive hundreds of millions in tax dollars to resettle refugees and asylum seekers in the U.S. under contract with the federal government. Six of the nine contractors are religious groups, WND has learned, including the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Church World Service and World Relief Corp., which includes a plethora of evangelical groups.

The Catholic Bishops alone received $65.9 million in federal grants to care for unaccompanied alien children and refugees, according to its 2012 annual report.

By contrast, the group raised $1.4 million from its own church members while federal loans and private-sector grants made up the remainder of the $71 million spent on the resettlements that year. That means 93 percent of the USCCB’s spending on charity work with UACs and refugees was covered by the American taxpayer.

Kevin Appleby, director of USCC’s Migration and Refugee Services Office, did not respond to calls and emails from WND seeking comment.

Similar funding ratios have been found to be the norm with the Lutheran effort.

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service reported total income of $41.7 million in 2012, and government grants accounted for $40.4 million, or 96.8 percent of that amount, according to the nonprofit’s most recently reported Form 990, a disclosure that nonprofits must file with the Internal Revenue Service. The group raised only $1.3 million from private donors.

Miji Bell, press spokeswoman for Lutheran Immigration, also did not return calls Tuesday.

The money for refugees and asylum seekers may not even include the federal money funneled to Catholic Charities USA and other religious groups to resettle illegal border crossers coming into Texas, Arizona or New Mexico who arrive by themselves. The charities often subcontract with other charities, making it difficult to track the money.

The numbers of UACs coming through the Southern border have increased dramatically since 2009, and so have the costs, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which operates within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Eight years ago, the program averaged 6,775 referrals a year. In fiscal 2013 the number reached 24,668. Now, the agency is expecting 60,000 referrals in 2014 at a cost to the U.S. government of more than $750 million, up from less than $500 million in 2013 and less than $250 million in 2009.

The University of Texas at El Paso’s National Center for Border Security and Immigration conducted a study published in March in which it laid bare the major cause of the problem – exploitation of weak border enforcement policies by the U.S.

“Both Border Patrol and ICE ERO officers agreed that the lack of deterrence for crossing the U.S.-Mexican border has impacted the rate at which they apprehend UACs. Officers are certain that UACs are aware of the relative lack of consequences they will receive when apprehended at the U.S. border,” the authors wrote on page 3 of the UTEP study. “UTEP was informed that smugglers of family members of UACs understand that once a UAC is apprehended for illegal entry into the United States, the individual will be re-united with a U.S. based family member pending the disposition of the immigration hearing. This process appears to be exploited by illegal alien smugglers and family members in the United States who wish to reunite with separated children.”

How many of the Central American children will seek asylum is not clear at this point. The United Nations is considering granting some type of legal status to children in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who can show evidence of being persecuted. An asylum seeker differs from a refugee in that the person comes into the U.S. on his own, often crossing the border illegally, and then seeks to gain asylum through legal channels.

Included in President Obama’s $3.7 billion emergency aid package for dealing with the border crisis is $1.1 million for immigration lawyers to represent the illegal alien children. Another $1.8 billion would go toward resettling the children as opposed to deporting them.

Don Barnett, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, said he would like to see the feds rein in the grants and loans to charities that resettle refugees and UACs seeking asylum.

The federal government gives out not only grants but loans, and the nonprofit charities are able to pocket 25 percent of whatever they collect on those loans, Barnett explained. He said many of the loans are made to refugees or UACs for travel purposes.

“They actually hire collection agents to get the money back from the refugees,” he said. “It’s very profitable for the nonprofits, really quite profitable, and it has introduced perverse incentives into the whole process, into decision making and policy,” he said. “It totally disincentivizes rational thinking.”

These same religious charities can also be found lobbying Congress and the Obama administration for amnesty legislation and other policies that immigration watchdogs see as encouraging more illegal immigrants to cross the border.

On July 2 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a letter to Obama urging him not to send any of the unaccompanied children who had illegally crossed into the U.S. back to their home countries.

“Current law permits children from non-contiguous countries to remain in the country until their request for asylum or immigration relief is considered by an immigration judge,” said Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration. “This is a very vulnerable population which has been targeted by organized crime networks in Central America. To return them to these criminal elements without a proper adjudication of their cases is unconscionable.”

And in 2011, the Catholic Bishops advocated for passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide permanent legal status, some call it amnesty, to young people under 35 brought into the U.S. illegally by their parents if they had been here in the country since the age of 16 or younger, provided they had completed two years of college or military service.

Conflicts of interest?

Dan Cadman, with the Center for Immigration Studies, says it’s a conflict of interest for a group that benefits financially from immigration – both legal and illegal – to try to influence immigration policy.

“It bothers me that any private organization is using a government funding stream for that purpose, not only Catholic Charities but Lutheran World Service, the Episcopal Church, they’ve all got their hands in the pie,” Cadman said. “The thing is that everyone understands that, with a wink and a nod, this so-called emergency money (from Obama) is not going to result in any substantial number of individuals being deported. It’s just not. How ironic to see an emergency budget supplemental request and then when you look at the details you see it’s all going to be chewed up for things like brick and mortar buildings for resettlement and not used in any useful way to stop this tidal wave of human beings.”

Cadman said there is “no doubt in my mind” that the religious NGOs or “non-governmental organizations” are working with the United Nations to get the children qualified as refugees or asylum seekers.

“The religious charities have had a hand in that,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind they are looking to afford people status in any way, shape or form because the end game is to not get them sent back to their country of origin.”

Children don’t qualify as refugees

Frank Head Jr., director of Immigration Services for Catholic Charities of Arkansas, said the Central American children would not qualify as refugees under the current United Nations definition, but it’s not out of the question that a special legal status could be created for the children.

“There’s no easy pat answer to that,” he told WND. “They will not get refugee status. That’s never been the case. There is a special set of regulations for children not accompanied by parents, but no immediate status. They get put into a special adjudication system. They never get called ‘refugees’ but there is a category, a process where a juvenile who is basically an orphan with no family to claim them could get a certain status (as an asylum seeker) after a lengthy court battle.”

That court battle could be fought with federally funded lawyers, a development even more likely if Obama’s $3.7 billion in emergency aid gets passed by Congress.

“The actual answer, everyone wants to know (about the status), but the Obama administration has proposed a new set of regulations and $3.7 billion to fund it,” Head said. “A juvenile, aside from the fact that they get special treatment if caught, and only in recent years have they been afforded that special status – they used to get thrown into adult jails – they now get treated as a juvenile. But there isn’t any immediate status. Definitely there is intensive meetings going on to possibly create some new status because the current refugee law doesn’t apply. They couldn’t qualify.”

That’s because a refuge by definition is someone who has been pre-screened by the U.N. and then allowed to legally enter a host country.

“But these kids for the most part don’t qualify as refugees because you have to be part of a designated group facing political or religious persecution, but these are just kids fleeing from violence. They’re not running off all right-wing children or all left-wing children or government-inclined children,” Head said. “It’s not a religious sect, it’s not a political group, so they wouldn’t qualify for asylum status and so you would ultimately just ship them back and that’s what a lot of people want to do. You have a pretty good idea who that is.”

Head said he doesn’t expect the Obama package to pass the Republican-dominated House.

Pursuing the U.N.’s channels would be a totally separate approach.

“That would have to be for people who hadn’t entered the country yet,” Head said. “The U.N. would have to setup an office in say Guatemala or El Salvador and you could come there, make a case and possibly get refugee status and get a safe place to come. Even if the U.N. approves you it doesn’t mean the U.S. will let you in. But if someone’s already here you have to apply for asylum status.”

He said the U.S. lets in 75,000 to 85,000 foreign refugees a year. “And at any given time there’s several million in the world.”

This is separate from the unaccompanied alien children who illegally cross the border and offer themselves up to be apprehended by Border Patrol agents then get turned over the Health and Human Services and given a piece of paper ordering them to appear at a deportation hearing two to three years down the road.

Coming out of the shadows

WND also reported in its July 11 article that many of the charities doing the resettlement work for the government try to keep a low profile to avoid upsetting the host community. But with the recent surge of illegals at the border and the media attention it has attracted, it’s getting more difficult to keep their resettlement work under the radar.

In fact, the border surge is creating a corresponding surge in opposition from citizen activist groups. A coalition of 11 activist groups is organizing two days of protest rallies on July 18 and 19 across the United States on highway overpasses, state capitols and Mexican consulates. A list of protest sites can be found here.

There have been reports of angry residents showing up at city council meetings in some cities where illegals have been resettled. In Vassar, Michigan, 50 people marched on city hall July 14 in protest of a plan to house a group of Central American boys ages 12 to 17 in their city. Some carried AR-15 rifles and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, reported a local newspaper.

Other cities are taking a more proactive approach, passing ordinances forbidding any resettlements of illegals in their communities.

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