BALTIMORE (AP) — Scores of Baltimore-area religious leaders held an interfaith prayer vigil for unaccompanied children who arrived in Maryland after fleeing violence in their home countries.
Dozens of religious leaders and supporters marched along Baltimore's Inner Harbor on Wednesday to draw attention to the influx of immigrant children into the United States, and specifically into Maryland and Baltimore. In the first seven months of 2014, 2,205 unaccompanied immigrant children have settled in Maryland. Most of those children have been reunited with family members or placed in the homes of sponsors.
Roughly 57,000 unaccompanied immigrant children have crossed the border into the United States since October, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and one of the rally's organizers, said the march and prayer vigil were designed to send a message that the city is welcoming of refugees and immigrants.
"Today's gathering is an important sign of support from the people of Baltimore that says this is a city and a state that's welcoming of refugee kids, of people who flee violence, of people who have dreams and aspirations for their future, for their well-being, and to be reunited with their family members."
Bishop Wolfgang Herz-Lane, of the Delaware Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, led the group in a prayer before urging families to become foster guardians for immigrant children who have not yet been placed.
"We are called by our God to treat these children as they are: innocent victims," Herz-Lane said. "We are very concerned about what happens to these children, and we are advocating for foster families to take them. There are many families who would gladly open their homes."
The prayer vigil comes just two days after Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley met with religious leaders in the state's capital to discuss strategies for sheltering the children in Maryland. Catholic Charities has proposed utilizing one of its Timonium facilities that has been used to house children with severe behavioral problems as a shelter for immigrant children. The facility can house 50 children at a time.