Why Do Children Flee? UCARE By Heidi Gamble

unaccompanied minor childrenFriends, For the last couple of years, we’ve been hearing about the children coming up from Central America. In the short post below, Rev. Heidi Gamble, Mission Catalyst, Pacific Presbytery, explains why the children are fleeing their homes, describes what happens when they come here, and why this is a humanitarian crisis! She shares details of UCARE a partnership started to help the children in LA and invites us to come alongside in some very specific ways. The Summit Planning team has invited Heidi/UCARE to be a part of Mission Connections: Listening to all voices on Feb. 6th at Tustin Pres. Please share about UCARE widely and help generously. Thank you. Anita

Contact: Rev. Heidi Worthen Gamble, Mission Catalyst for Pacific Presbytery, for more information. Phone: 310.670.5076 | Email: heidi at pacificpresbytery dot org

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Pacific Presbytery, and CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice), have formed a partnership to develop UCARE (Unaccompanied Children and Refugee Empowerment), a city-wide interfaith and inter-agency coalition in Los Angeles to respond to the needs of unaccompanied minor children/refugees from Central America (ages 7-17 years) who have been placed here by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The children are fleeing extreme violence in their home countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and now face severe economic hardship and bewildering court proceedings without a right to court-appointed representation; truly the poorest of the poor in our midst.

Why are they fleeing?

Children who live in the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) are preyed upon in elementary school to be recruited to extreme gang violence. Girls are recruited for sex trafficking, boys are recruited to kill and support the gang. If a child refuses, a family member is shot and killed in front of them, as a reminder that they have no choice. One of the most powerful gangs in the world is the Mara Salvatrucha gang or MS-13, who originated in Los Angeles in the Pico-Union area in the 1980s, who have been deported from U.S. prisons in the past several years. MS-13 has ignited into being one of the deadliest gangs in the world.

Many of these children are Christians who know that Jesus does not call them to live a life of violence, and so they flee, seeking refuge in a country that will protect them. The children are fleeing not only to the United States, but also to Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica, seeking political asylum. The children have an internationally protected right to seek protection when their own country cannot provide for their protection. They are considered refugees.

When the children arrived at the U.S. border last summer, they presented themselves openly, asking for help. Unfortunately, over 100,000 children have been deported by our government, many back to their deaths. However, if a child had a relative in the United States, the children were parceled out to various regions of the country by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to undergo deportation proceedings to win their political asylum cases. Los Angeles is the primary recipient city of these children; currently there are approximately 3,500 unaccompanied minor children in the Los Angeles County Court System. When properly represented in court, the children’s cases are winning as legitimate asylum and special immigrant juvenile status. These children have experienced extreme violence and unimaginable trauma. Approximately 90% of the girls who arrived have been sexually trafficked. Here in Los Angeles, they are placed with immigrant relatives, most of whom are living in poverty themselves, while going through bewildering and complex court proceedings. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has declared this a humanitarian crisis.

These children are refugees in our midst, they have experienced the same level of atrocities as Syrians who are fleeing to the borders of Europe. We know that the church is called to stand in the gap. That’s what we are doing. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Pacific Presbytery, and CLUE-LA, an interfaith worker justice organization, have teamed up to hire Guillermo Torres, a Christian organizer from CLUE, to form an interfaith, interagency coalition here in Los Angeles to respond collaboratively to the needs of the unaccompanied minor children, and mothers and children fleeing violence in Central America who have come to us for refuge. He is doing an amazing job. Through this coalition, called the UCARE coalition, the church is leading the city of Los Angeles in a growing movement of care and commitment to these children.

There are several ways your church can be part of a growing witness of love and care for these children. Below are some ways you and your church can help! Along with basic essentials, the children and their sponsor immigrant families are in need of loving people to provide personal support and court accountability.


  • Organize a gift card drive in your church for grocery store gift cards ($25 amounts) and Metro Passes ($25 amounts), and/or donate to our emergency fund.
  • Volunteer in LA County Courts to witness removal proceedings through our Guardian Angels Program.
  • Volunteer to participate in outings and build relationships with refugee children through our Companionship Program.
  • Be involved in advocacy.
  • Sign up to receive updates for letter-writing actions and visits to legislators.
  • If you are an attorney, regardless of what kind of law you practice, we need you!

We are called to be a light in the darkness, to be hope in the midst of unspeakable suffering.

Please join us in this life-giving kingdom work in the name of Jesus. Thank you.

Rev. Heidi Worthen Gamble, Mission Catalyst, Pacific Presbytery