Unaccompanied Child Migrants in U.S. Communities, Immigration Court, and Schools

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Pierce, Sarah
Institutional Author
Migration Policy Institute (MPI)
Resource Type
Acquisition Number
Published Date
10-23-2015 3:54 PM
Published Year
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Subscription Only
More than 102,000 unaccompanied children (UACs) from Central America and Mexico were apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the U.S.-Mexico border between October 1, 2013 and August 31, 2015. The rapid influx of child arrivals in the spring and summer of 2014, which caught the attention of a concerned public and policymakers, briefly overwhelmed the systems in place for processing and caring for these children. While most of the Mexican children are quickly returned to Mexico, under U.S. law children from noncontiguous countries are transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be processed and simultaneously placed in removal proceedings. The vast majority of these are released by ORR into the custody of a parent, relative, or friend in the United States while they wait for their cases to progress through the immigration court system. This issue brief summarizes the available data and qualitative research on where unaccompanied child migrants are being placed, how they are faring in immigration court, what types of services are available to them, and how communities, in particular schools, are adapting to their arrival. Even though a priority docket was created in the immigration courts system for unaccompanied minors, their cases continue to lag. Even when their cases are finally heard, the immigration court system has resolved the status for relatively few of them: a review of the data shows that while 70 percent of those who show up for their hearings receive some form of immigration relief, 97 percent do not receive a simultaneous grant of immigration statusmeaning they remain unauthorized. Meanwhile, most removal orders go to children who fail to attend their hearings, and as a result many orders of removal go unexecuted. As these cases make their way through the courts, the children become further ingrained in communities and school districts across the country. The brief finds that communities and school districts largely continue to face challenges meeting the needs of these children and have responded in disparate ways to their arrival, some creating additional programs to address children's particular needs, while others have made school enrollment more difficult for this population.
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