Humanist Charity Raising Funds for Unaccompanied Immigrant Children's Legal Aid

The nation's largest humanist charity is raising funds to offer legal assistance to the unaccompanied immigrant children flooding over the border.

The Humanist Crisis Response program will donate the funds to two organizations that provide attorneys for minors in immigration hearings -- the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona, and Kids in Need of Defense, which operates in California and Texas.

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The Humanist Crisis Response Program is a joint effort of two humanist organizations, Foundation Beyond Belief, and the American Humanist Association.

"Humanism is the desire to take care of this world, in this life," explains Dale McGowan, executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief. "It's a sort of naturalistic stance that says whether or not a God exists, [that] the most important thing is to take care of this world and this life."

"This campaign is an opportunity for humanists to put into practice our values of justice and human rights," says Roy Speckhardt, the American Humanist Association executive director, "and to ensure that vulnerable children receive the legal representation that they need."

The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project is a non-profit offering free legal services to men, women, and children detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement here in Arizona. Free legal assistance is not offered to people facing immigration removal proceedings. The Florence Project estimates that 86 percent of immigrant detainees are unrepresented.

The decision to focus on this issue came from members of the humanist giving organization, says McGowan. Members began inquiring about providing assistance to these children so the foundation's staff decided to vet organizations that were responding directly to the crisis. Food, clothing, and shelter did not seem to be the key issues, McGowan says, as they were largely provided by government agencies.

"We dug into it and researched the issue; it turned out the issue of legal representation was a much more serious priority," McGowan says. "Over three-quarters of kids entering unaccompanied by an adult are without representation. It's really a terrifying situation."

McGowan sees little controversy in the decision to get involved in this issue. Humanists have had a "pretty unified voice" on this issue, he says. This isn't about simply letting children across the border, he says. "Essentially what they are doing is providing these kids with as fair as possible of a hearing."

"No child should meet a national immigration system alone. KIND and the Florence Project are doing brilliant work to ensure that they are not alone, and the humanist community is proud to support them," McGowan says.

In the first days of the fundraising campaign, the group already has raised several thousand dollars. They have yet to put out their major promotional materials for the drive. In past disaster-relief drives, the group has raised between $20,000 and $30,000, McGowan says.

The Foundation Beyond Belief, McGowan's organization, is a humanist charity with more than 1,600 giving members, most of whom are secular humanists and atheists, he says. The 4 1/2-year-old foundation has a regular giving program and has donated $1.6 million dollars to various charities since its launch. It also has a special disaster-relief arm, formed as a way for non-theistic people to show a community response during disaster events, McGowan says. This legal-assistance campaign will be the foundation's ninth disaster-relief fundraiser, and its fourth focused on a domestic issue. The foundation has preciously raised money for relief after the tornadoes in Oklahoma, Superstorm Sandy, and the Colorado wildfires, McGowan says.

The American Humanist Association--a separate organization, and one of the oldest humanist organizations in the country--recently approached the Foundation Beyond Belief about taking over Humanist Charities, its charitable-giving effort.

"Both organizations felt like combining the two programs into one humanist crisis response would be a positive move that would better grow the efforts of the humanist relief," says Merrill Miller, an American Humanist Association representative. This drive is the first since the two programs merged in June.

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Ashley Cusick
Contact: Ashley Cusick