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Catholic and Evangelical Humanitarian Agencies Voice Concern Over Impact of Rule Regarding Unaccompanied Children

 
February 23, 2015
WASHINGTON—An interim final rule published by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services risks harmful effects on unaccompanied children resettled by the United States, according to comments filed by Catholic and Evangelical organizations and relief agencies. At issue is whether the rule adequately accounts for the religious and moral concerns of faith-based organizations. Regulations that may force those agencies to restrict their work could create an unmanageable backlog for services.  

“We believe that, through practical discussions, we can find a resolution that allows the government to fulfill its obligation to care for unaccompanied children, while also respecting the religious and moral beliefs of faith-based organization that, to date, have provided such critical care for this vulnerable population,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said in joint comments filed on February 20 along with the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision, Inc., Catholic Relief Services and World Relief.

The organizations stressed their commitment to support and strengthen protections for these minors in ways that respect the organizations’ religious and moral convictions. “In cases where pregnancy occurs, those of us participating in the program are willing to continue to provide health care access, as we have for years, in a manner consistent with our religious beliefs,” the comments noted.

The comments stated that the rule falls short of having adequate protections for those organizations with religious or moral objections to certain requirements under the rule, including providing minors and victims of sexual abuse access to “emergency contraception” and access “to all lawful pregnancy-related medical services,” which the comments indicated “apparently includes abortion.”  

The comments also noted that the rule has implications regarding human sexuality and therefore requests that ORR ensure that organizations remain free to act in accord with their religious beliefs and moral convictions in the area of human sexuality when providing care for unaccompanied minors.

The comments responded to an interim final rule that was published in the Federal Register on December 24, 2014.

Currently, six out of nine national refugee resettlement agencies in the United States are faith-based organizations, including the USCCB, which is the largest in terms of persons served, and World Relief, which mobilizes the resources of the evangelical community. Together, these organizations resettle the majority of refugees entering the United States each year.

The full text of the comments is available online: www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/rulemaking/upload/02-20-15-comments-UM.pdf.

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Keywords: Office of Refugee Resettlement, comments, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, CRS, National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief, World Vision, Inc

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