With the recent surge of refugees seeking asylum in the United States, more than 60,000 mostly unaccompanied children have arrived at the border seeking food, shelter and safety from violence.

Evanston is not feeling the surge of child refugees directly. Local religious institutions for the most part have no organized response to the recent influx of refugees arriving at the U.S. border. But many organizations have addressed immigration concerns in the past, and while there seems to be no assistance designed specifically for the children currently seeking asylum, one local congregation has expressed its intention to take action intended to inspire immigration law reform.

With no formal or specific plan of action in place, the churches of St. Paul and St. Nicholas would direct anyone looking for information on a denominational response to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Archdiocese of Chicago websites, respectively.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has applied for funds to support a number of child refugees who have come across the border from Mexico. Cardinal Francis George has been working specifically with Maryville Academy in Des Plaines to house and feed the children after they arrive, most likely by the end of the year. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has stated that up to 1,000 children can potentially be held in the Chicago area with the help of federal funding. At this time no religious organizations in Evanston have any formal plans to shelter the child refugees.  

The congregation of Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston has worked in the past to bring assistance to refugees. Julius Belser, a pastor at Reba with a Church of the Brethren background, says that Reba has no formal response, but mentioned work being done by the Church of the Brethren at large in Nigeria. This includes a week of fasting and prayer for the killings and the burning of churches there. Mr. Belser worked with his sister and a number of others to help Central American refugees in the 1980s. The pastor mentioned a Salvadorian sister community where the church occasionally sends delegates, but confirmed that at this time, there is “no active program for the current crisis.”

Senior Minister Steve Van Kuiken says Lake Street Church is “looking at a response to the whole immigration problem.” At a congregational meeting on Aug. 24, church members voted unanimously to become the third church in the Chicago metropolitan area to participate in the New Sanctuary Coalition. The goal, Rev. Van Kuiken says, is to raise consciousness about and effect change in U.S. immigration laws and policies.

While not aimed specifically at the child refugee crisis, the decision to become a Sanctuary congregation puts Lake Street Church in a position to serve any refugees who make their way to the Greater Chicago Area.

As a Sanctuary church, Lake Street Church will become a safe haven for an undocumented person or persons who will have a public role in “drawing attention to immigration laws and practices,” Rev. Van Kuiken says. “[The church is] not hiding; we are taking a public position,” he says, in order to “put pressure on lawmakers” to change laws that result in “too many families being separated, too many productive people [being lost].”

This is a humanitarian crisis, not an immigration problem, Rev. Van Kuiken says, one to which the U.S. “needs to respond as a nation.”