Since its creation 12 years ago, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Unaccompanied Child (UAC) program has helped 410,000 children who have arrived at our borders without a parent or legal guardian by providing basic services and placing such children with foster families. Federal law provides that the ORR through the UAC program is responsible for “coordinating and implementing the care and placement,” “identifying a sufficient number of qualified individuals, entities, and facilities to house,” and “overseeing the infrastructure and personnel of facilities” as needed to ensure these children are placed in safe environments, free of exploitation. In November, the ORR released proposed rulemaking that both provided helpful updates and added concerning measures regarding abortion and “gender transitions” to ORR’s guidelines.
The ERLC responded to this proposal by submitting comments in response to the proposed rule, requesting that the ORR review and revise the rule and remove concerning elements that violated religious liberty protections, conscience rights, and endanger the preborn.
Southern Baptists have stated our desire to see meaningful government policy enacted that ensures clear borders and clear legal pathways while protecting the lives of children made in God’s image and worthy of protection and care. In the resolution “On Wisely Engaging Immigration” earlier this year, Southern Baptists committed to “urge our government to take swift and bold action to protect and prevent the exploitation of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving to the United States.”
The ORR states that under this proposed rule,
“ORR would be required to plan and provide care and services based on the individual needs of and focusing on the strengths of the unaccompanied child … these collaborative approaches to care provision allow for the recognition of each child’s specific needs and strengths while providing opportunities for unaccompanied children to become more empowered, resilient, and self-efficacious.”
This shows a shift toward a more individualized placement approach within the ORR, leading to better care and protection for these children who may have undergone trauma, abuse, or various other forms of neglect prior to arrival.
As we stated in our comments,
this proposed rule does much good in establishing stronger standards to ensure that these vulnerable children are not exploited and receive proper care. This proposed rule helpfully codifies many standards and practices established in the Flores settlement, individualizes assessment in placements to prioritize the best interest of the child, improves standards for placements that will assist in preventing trafficking, and increases legal representation for these unaccompanied children.
Three primary concerns
The ERLC flagged three primary types of concerns related to abortion, religious liberty, and “gender transition” issues.
Firstly, the ORR explicitly states that the office would continue to fund abortion-related travel for minors in the UAC program. While the ORR claims this is permissible under current appropriations law, the ERLC and pro-life advocacy partners have argued that it is not permissible, with the ERLC stating in the submitted comments:
As the ERLC has repeatedly advocated, abortion-related travel is inherently included as a prohibited measure under the Hyde Amendment since doing so subsidizes the abortion industry with federal funding. There is no meaningful argument the ORR can make to separate abortion from abortion-related travel, and this type of argument has not proven successful in circumventing other federal appropriations restrictions.
Additionally, the ORR does not make any attempt to retain conscience and other religious liberty protections for ORR staffers and foster care parents whose deeply held beliefs may be infringed upon as a result of these newly established guidelines. For example, ORR staffers and foster parents will likely be required to aid in ensuring unaccompanied minor children have access to abortion under the proposed rule. Although the rule states that the program is operated in compliance with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), it is not specified how the agency actually intends to navigate conflict between this proposed rule and the religious liberty protections provided in RFRA.
Lastly, the ORR includes a provision whereby an unaccompanied child is able to request medical services “requiring heightened ORR involvement” and potentially requiring transport across state lines. While the rule does not specifically state “gender transition” procedures and prescriptions are included within this definition, it also does not specify which types of medical services would require such heightened ORR involvement. In keeping with a larger agenda of the Biden administration, it is clear that such language is intended to circumvent laws prohibiting such “gender transitions” in some states.
How does this issue affect Southern Baptists?
Thousands of Southern Baptists have fostered children, launched foster care organizations, and created ministries in their congregations to support the physical and financial needs of foster families. Additionally, congregations across the country have hosted training for foster families to ensure they are trauma informed and have all the knowledge and resources they need to be “safe and appropriate” placements for children in crisis.
Since these unaccompanied children will be placed into foster care, it’s likely this issue will directly affect the religious liberty of Southern Baptists faithfully living out our deeply held religious convictions.
As Southern Baptists, we believe that caring for the vulnerable, including unaccompanied children, is deeply connected to our faith, and we desire to see these children provided with proper care. The necessary and helpful work the ORR does should remain so without capitulating to an agenda that harms the very children we desire to see protected. We encourage fellow Southern Baptists to join us in praying that this rule is revised, for opportunities to equip and care for the foster families serving these children, and for God to continue to grant his wisdom to the staff members of the ORR in ensuring safe and protected environments for these children.