Governor Bryant Seeks to Extend Mississippi’s “Settlement Ban” to Documented Refugee Children
This afternoon, Mississippi’s Governor Phil Bryant announced that he wishes to prevent the further placement of certain vulnerable children in Mississippi under the federally-funded Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program. This announcement comes just over one month after the governor announced Mississippi’s “closure” to (primarily) Central American “unaccompanied alien children” (UACs) seeking protection in the United States.
Who Are Unaccompanied Refugee Minors?
The Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program provides long-term foster care and other support services to young immigrants who have received refugee or other special legal status but have no relatives to provide them with long-term care in the United States. As opposed to UACs, who generally have no immigration status, children in the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program have already received legal status from the United States government –whether as refugees before entering the United States, or as victims of trafficking, recipients of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (for children who are abused, neglected, and/or abandoned), or as asylees.
Since its origins as a provider of protection for Southeast Asian refugee children in the 1980s, the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program, primarily through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service, has placed nearly 13,000 refugee children with long-term foster families in the United States. According to the Jackson Free Press, the URM program currently places eligible children in foster families in thirteen states–including Mississippi, where twenty-seven participating refugee children reside.
Why Target URMs?
Through his spokeswoman Nicole Webb, Governor Bryant stated that he opposes the URM program in Mississippi because “All of a sudden, this program, where we all play by the rules could be commandeered and used to bring in children who are here illegally.” Governor Bryant’s fears are unfounded, however, as every child who participates in the URM program (including all twenty-seven who reside in Mississippi) possesses authorization to live in the United States–either by virtue of his/her status as a refugee, asylee, Special Immigrant Juvenile, or trafficking victim (T visa holder).
By singling out URMs, Governor Bryant attacks some of Mississippi’s most vulnerable residents. By their very definition, URMs have demonstrated to the United States that they are children who have suffered unspeakable atrocities in their countries of origin, ranging from genocide to physical/emotional abuse to sex trafficking. Rather than ostracizing Unaccompanied Refugee Minors and adding to the trauma that they have already suffered, Governor Bryant should welcome them with open arms and support the foster families who have opened their hearts and homes with true Mississippi hospitality.