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Charity holds off on donations for immigrant minors

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The executive director of Catholic Charities West Virginia says the organization is not seeking donations for 20 unaccompanied immigrant minors located in the state.

Mark Sliter-Hays, executive director of Catholic Charities West Virginia, said Tuesday fundraising efforts have been put on hold due to confusion over how donations would be given to those children who have been placed with families in West Virginia.

“It’s in flux,” he said. “I think we are going to hold off on asking for any more donations. There is a lot of privacy and confidentiality involved with this, and honestly we don’t know where the 20 children are.”

The federal Office of Refuge Resettlement a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, says 20 children who crossed the border into the United States have been relocated to West Virginia. Nationally more than 43,000 unaccompanied children have come to the U.S. since January, most placed at large facilities in different states. The office does not provide information on individual children and lists county placements only for group of 50 children or more.

State officials say those children who have come to West Virginia have been placed with families, as the state does not have sufficient facilities to accommodate large groups.

“We don’t know where the children are going to be unless they come to us seeking assistance,” said Kim Keene, director of migration and refugees services for CCWV. “In our office in Martinsburg, four sponsors came seeking assistance in having children placed with them. Other than that, right now we have no information about where the children are in West Virginia.”

Officials say they are unsure whether any of those four cases are among the 20 children listed on the federal website.

“They came to me independent of any referral,” said Brittany Young, immigration and refugee case manager for CCWV. “So we can’t necessarily say yes, those are the children listed. We don’t know.”

Keene said the Martinsburg office provides legal counseling and aid for immigrants and refugees, as well as some financial help. The number of cases seen has dramatically increased in the past two years, and West Virginia has received refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, as well as areas of Africa and Myanmar, she said. In almost all cases the refugees come to West Virginia because they already have family within the state, she said.

Keene also said the office provides help in cases of domestic violence where someone from a foreign country is abused by their American spouse.

In August, Catholic Charities West Virginia announced it would provide aid to any unaccompanied immigrant children relocated to the state, but officials now say while they are still soliciting donations for CCWV’s Migration and Refugee Program, they are not asking for targeted donations for those children.

“We do seek donations to help our program continue its work,” she said. “But we are not collecting for those children in particular.”

Sliter-Hays said the charity is seeking guidance from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a conference call of West Virginia charities is planned for later this month.

“We may know more at that point,” he said.

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