When apprehended at the border, UAC are transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). According to federal law, many UAC have the right to be released to a family member or responsible adult in the US—a “sponsor”—while their deportation proceedings are pending. According to ORR data from 2012, nearly half (48%) of all sponsors are parents, 15% are siblings, and nearly one quarter (24%) are other relatives. Just over 45,000 UAC were released to sponsors in the first nine months of 2014.
Unaccompanied children who are released to sponsors settle across a vast geography. Given that the majority of sponsors are family members, UAC placement reflects recent changes in immigrant settlement. The biggest receiving states are those with large immigrant populations to begin with—such as California, Texas, Florida, and New York—yet many UAC are settling in other regions of the country. In the first eight months of 2014, over 20 states scattered across the Midwest and Northwest each received between 100 – 500 UAC and a block of states in the Southeast welcomed thousands more.
Recent reports from UNHCR, the Immigration Policy Center, and other sources have explored the reasons why UAC are leaving their countries of origin. These reports have documented the threats of violence and privation that explain why they would risk journeying to the US border. However, with the exception of a few reports on the legal options available to UAC once they arrive, very little research has addressed questions concerning the well-being of UAC after they are apprehended at the border.
Specifically, relatively little is known about how UACs are integrating into the community or the effectiveness of the programs contracted by ORR to facilitate this process. In response to this gap, this symposium provides updated information on current trends on UAC placement and support programs; analysis of the legal ambiguities associated with being classified as a UAC; and data from two recent studies of how UAC are adapting once they are placed with sponsor.