From October 2013 through September 30, 2014 there was a 77% increase in the number of unaccompanied minors that have crossed the border into the United States.
Most of the children crossing the border turn themselves over to U.S. customs and border patrol officials. Once in the United States, immigrant children who are unaccompanied minors are processed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for care, custody and placement in a temporary facility while efforts are made to place each child with suitable family members or other sponsors in the United States. Children who are unable to find sponsors, or children without qualifying sponsors, remain in ORR custody and are housed in longer term custodial facilities under contracts with HHS.
There is at least one unaccompanied minor that has been placed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The states receiving the greatest numbers of unaccompanied immigrant minors are: California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Each of these states has received over 1,000 immigrant children. Find out how many children have been placed in your state.
Legal Services Corporation recently released a new regulation and policy regarding eligibility for legal services. Unaccompanied minors who have been victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking may qualify under the anti-abuse regulations (See 45 C.F.R. § 1626.2).
In light of this development, we have extended registration for our webinar scheduled for Monday, November 3, on the expansion of access to legal services. View the legislative and regulatory materials, and NIWAP’s analysis.
The unaccompanied immigrant children crossing the U.S. border are fleeing violence such as homicide, gang violence, rape, sexual assault, and human trafficking. This migration of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America accounts for a 77% rise in the numbers of immigrant girls arriving as unaccompanied minors over the numbers of girls arriving in 2013. Although the journey from their home countries, through Mexico and across the U.S. border is dangerous for all children, girls face the added risks of rape and sexual assault, which explains why unaccompanied girls arrive in the U.S. pregnant or having taken, or are traveling with, contraceptives.
Additionally, as immigrant children are placed with sponsoring families, advocates, attorneys, health care providers, schools and other professionals who assist these children need be aware that recently immigrated children, particularly girls, are at heightened risk of suffering sexual assault and child abuse in the United States. Immigrant girls in the United States are twice as likely to have suffered sexual assault by the time they reach high school as U.S. born girls.
Immigrant children and youth who have suffered crime victimization either in their home countries or in the United States may qualify to apply for legal immigration status that will allow them to remain in the United States. It is important for programs serving immigrants, children, and victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking and human trafficking to conduct screening to determine whether youth and children you are helping are immigrants and whether they have suffered crime victimization. Early screening is important because it may help immigrant children that have been placed in removal proceedings stay in the country. Additionally, certain forms of immigration relief that these children qualify for require that applications be submitted before the child reaches a specific age, or they become ineligible.
The various forms of immigration relief for which immigrant children may qualify include:
- Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) available to immigrant children under the age of majority in the state that the child resides or has been placed, who obtains a state court order that includes findings that they have been subjected to abuse, neglect or abandonment by one or both of their parents. State law definitions of abuse, abandonment or neglect apply. Unaccompanied minors should be screened for eligibility. See moreinformation on SIJS eligibility requirements.
- T visa and continued presence for victims of human trafficking. Unaccompanied minors who have experienced human trafficking in the United States may qualify. See moreinformation on the T visa and continued presence.
- U visa immigration protection for immigrants who have suffered domestic violence (battering or extreme cruelty, includes child abuse) sexual assault, stalking, extortion, kidnapping, felonious assault and other criminal activities perpetrated in the U.S. or in violation of U.S. laws. Unaccompanied minors who experience criminal activity in the United States may qualify.See more information on the U visa.
- VAWA self-petitioning and VAWA cancellation of removal for immigrant victims of child abuse perpetrated by the child’s U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent or step-parent. The child must have suffered battering or extreme cruelty before turning 21 and has up to the age of 25 to file. Married youth and adults abused by their citizen or lawful permanent resident spouses also qualify. Relatively few unaccompanied minors will qualify for this form of immigration relief as recent immigrants. However, immigrant children placed with parents and step-parents who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents could qualify based on abuse that occurs after the children arrived in the United States. Advocates, attorneys and other professionals working with recent immigrant children should remain aware that immigrant children joining or being reunited with families in the United States are vulnerable to child abuse and incest. See more information on VAWA immigration relief.
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): It is important to note that newly arriving unaccompanied minors do not qualify for DACA. DACA is available to help undocumented immigrant children who were under age 31 and in the United States on June 15, 2012, who had arrived in the U.S. when they were under the age of 16 and who have continually resided in the United States since June 15, 2007. DACA offers protection from deportation and work authorization but does not include a path to permanent legal immigration status. Children receiving DACA should be screened and receive information about the SIJS and crime victim related immigration remedies to identify those who qualify for forms of immigration relief that include a path to lawful permanent residency and citizenship.See more information on DACA.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services released a brochure explaining the various eligibility requirements for these different forms of immigration relief. A version of this brochure to which NIWAP has added SIJS and DACA is on NIWAP’s website in English, Spanish, Russian, Korean, and Chinese.
In order to help advocates, attorneys, judges, law enforcement agencies and other professionals assess which form of immigration relief immigrant children and immigrant crime victims qualify for, NIWAP has developed a series of comparison charts that will be helpful for immigrant crime victims that could qualify for more than one forms of immigration relief. The group that could qualify for both is identified:
NIWAP has also developed screening tools to help advocates, attorneys and police identify immigrant crime victims and children who are eligible for immigration relief.
These nuances among the various forms of immigration relief designed to help immigrant children and immigrant victims can be very challenging. If you have any questions about the difference between one type of immigration relief and another or questions regarding legal rights and options for immigrant crime victims, women and/or children, please feel free to call or email our technical assistance lines at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 274 4557.