Unaccompanied Alien Children: Policies and Issues [March 1, 2007]   [open pdf - 360KB]

"Unaccompanied alien children (UAC) are aliens under the age of 18 who come to the United States without authorization or overstay their visa, and are without a parent or legal guardian. Most arrive at U.S. ports of entry or are apprehended along the border with Mexico. With the passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (HSA), UAC tasking was split between the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Removal (ORR). DHS was delegated the task of apprehension, transfer and repatriation of UAC, while ORR was tasked to provide long-term detention and foster placement. The issue for Congress concerns whether the current system provides adequate protections for unaccompanied alien children. The debate over UAC policy has polarized in recent years between two camps: child welfare advocates arguing that the UAC are largely akin to refugees by being victims of abuse and economic circumstances, and immigration security advocates charging that unauthorized immigration is associated with increased community violence and illicit activities. Consequently, these two camps advocate very different policies for the treatment of UAC. This polarization is to some degree reflected in the tension between DHS and ORR, which despite attempts and congressional urging have failed to produce a Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies. In FY2006, the DHS's Customs and Border Protection apprehended 101,952 juveniles. The majority of these children were from Mexico and were returned voluntarily without being detained. DHS detained 7,746 UAC in this same year."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RL33896
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