Bethany Christian Services has worked to place unaccompanied immigrant children with foster families for years. But since the news emerged in June about the government separating children from their parents at the border, inquiries into its foster care program have skyrocketed.
The Detroit Free Press reports that more than 1,200 people reached out to the Grand Rapids-based agency in June, compared to the 30 or so per month that normally contact Bethany.
Morgan Greenburg, a spokeswoman for Bethany, explained that "all of these people were interested in fostering separated children."
Likewise, World Relief, an evangelical humanitarian agency that works with refugees and immigrants, says it has seen a jump in inquiries from those wanting to volunteer and give in the wake of the crisis.
"We've definitely noticed a significant uptick in interest from volunteers, donors and church partners," said Matt Soerens, US director of church mobilization for the agency.
The Challenge of Helping Separated Families
Across the country, ministries that normally work with unaccompanied immigrant children and families seeking asylum are shifting gears, working to help those families that are still separated as well as those that are unified.
Unified families must work through the asylum-seeking process and begin to process the trauma of being separated.
Here are some of the different ways that faith-based groups are helping:
Nate Bult, director of government affairs for Bethany, reports that the agency assigned a caseworker for every eight children in its care separated from their parents under the zero-tolerance policy.
After weeks of phone calls, 90 percent of those children are now with their parents. But Bult notes that court filings show some 200 children who have been reunited with their parents are now in government detention centers.
"It's a huge concern that people would be reunited to then be detained," he said during a conference call with reporters on Friday.
2. Catholic Reception Centers
Ashley Feasley, director of policy for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration & Refugee Services, said that reunited families that the government has released from detention centers are arriving at Catholic reception centers with huge needs.
"They are very traumatized people. They have experienced the worst," she explained. The centers offer hot showers, meals, clothes, shelter for 1-2 days and help with travel.
3. Worship Services
Scott Ellis, the outreach manager for World Relief in Seattle, reports that roughly 40 parents are still waiting to be united with their children at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. World Relief hosts worship services at the center for those parents and others whose lives are on hold. It also provides help with transition plans for those the government deports and for those it releases in the US.