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The Impact of Unaccompanied Children on Local Communities - Frequently Asked Questions

 

1. How might children arriving from Central America get to my community?

 There are three primary ways in which unaccompanied children may come to live in a particular community. Central American children who enter the United States alone and are apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are transferred into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Initially, the children are cared for in one of approximately 100 short-term ORR shelters, located mostly along the border with Mexico but also in New York, Florida, Illinois, Washington, and other states.[1] On average, children only stay in an ORR shelter for up to 35 days. The majority (85% to 90%) of them are then released to reside with a family member or other sponsor living in the United States while they await the resolution of their immigration cases. Those children who cannot be reunited with a family member may be placed in a state-licensed foster care program,[2]also funded by ORR, until their immigration cases are completed.  All children are placed into deportation proceedings upon arrival and will be ordered deported if an immigration judge finds they do not qualify for a remedy under current immigration law.

 

2. How long will these children be staying in the United States?

Regardless of whether they are in an ORR shelter, living with a sponsor, or in federal foster care, unaccompanied Central American children are permitted to stay in the U.S. until they have a chance to tell their story to an immigration judge who will decide whether they should be sent back or afforded protection in the U.S. First, each child is scheduled for an initial hearing at the nearest immigration court. Since the government is currently expediting hearings for all juveniles in the system, this first hearing could occur as soon as three weeks after a child is released by ORR to live with a family member.  Because the children are not entitled to a court-appointed or government-paid attorney, many do not have legal representation in immigration court. Following the preliminary hearing, each child is entitled to a subsequent hearing for the judge to consider the merits of the particular case. The most common claims are for asylum for those who fear persecution if forced to return to their home country; Special Immigrant Juvenile Status for victims of neglect, abandonment, or abuse; T visas for victims of human trafficking; and U visas for victims of crime. It could take anywhere from a few months to a few years for a final decision, depending on the backlog in the particular immigration court.

If a judge finds that the child does not have a form of relief under our immigration laws, the child will be ordered deported.  Likewise, if the child does not appear in court, he or she will receive an order of deportation and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can deport that child at any time upon encountering him or her. However, according to government data from the past 10 years, 92.5% of children that are represented by lawyers do appear at their immigration hearings. 

 

3. How would having an ORR shelter nearby affect my community?

ORR shelters are fully funded by the federal government and have little if any impact on local schools, healthcare systems, or other social services. ORR ensures that all children in its custody are provided food, clothing, mental and medical health services, case management, and recreational activities.  The children receive 6 hours of education a day within the shelter (including English-as-a-second-language classes) and do not attend local schools. All health care is provided at the federal government’s expense. During their stay, the children are confined to the shelter grounds and may not leave unsupervised by shelter staff. There may be minimal indirect impacts on the communities in which the shelters operate, such as increased patronage of local businesses and traffic on local roads from those working at or visiting the facility.

 

4. How many children will be released to live with a family member in my state or city?

Children who have family members with whom they can stay are released from ORR custody and relocated to the part of the country where their sponsor resides. While sponsors live across the United States, there are certain cities and states that historically receive larger numbers of children.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, 70% of the children released this year have gone to sponsors living in the following seven metropolitan areas: Los Angeles, New York City, the D.C. area, Miami, Houston, New Orleans, and Charlotte. This map shows the 20 states in which the largest numbers of unaccompanied children were released to sponsors during the first seven months of 2014.

 

 

 

The total number of children released to sponsors living in each of the 20 states is as follows:

 

STATE

# RELEASED

1

Texas

5,280

2

New York

4,244

3

California

3,909

4

Florida

3,809

5

Virginia

2,856

6

Maryland

2,804

7

New Jersey

1,877

8

North Carolina

1,429

9

Georgia

1,412

10

Louisiana

1,275

11

 Massachusetts

989

12

Tennessee

909

13

Alabama

515

14

Pennsylvania

456

15

South Carolina

434

16

 Ohio

405

17

Connecticut

394

18

Illinois

377

19

Indiana

309

20

Kentucky

284

 

5. What are the responsibilities of the child’s sponsor?

 When ORR releases an unaccompanied child to a family member or other sponsor, the sponsor assumes full responsibility for the physical and mental wellbeing of the child including providing food, shelter, clothing, education, medical care, and other necessary services.  Sponsors must also agree to attend a legal orientation program to learn about the immigration court process and ensure that the child attends immigration court hearings.  Reuniting children with family members until their immigration cases are resolved is cost-effective as it is less expensive for them to reside with a sponsor than to remain in an ORR shelter at an estimated daily rate of $80 per child per day.

 

6. How will the influx of school-aged children affect my local school district?

 Once children come to live with a family member or other sponsor, they are required to enroll in school, regardless of immigration status.  However, the unaccompanied children who have arrived so far this year represent only one-tenth of 1 percent of the 50 million students in public schools across the U.S.  Assuming every unaccompanied child will attend a public school this Fall, this would only be a .13% increase in public school enrollment nationwide.  Even in the 10 states where the largest numbers of children will reside with their sponsors, the overall increases are extremely small.

 

 

STATE

# CHILDREN RELEASED

TOTAL STUDENT POPULATION

% INCREASE IN SCHOOL ENROLLMENT

1

Texas

4,280

5 million

0.09%

2

New York

3,347

2.7 million

0.12%

3

Florida

3,181

2.7 million

0.12%

4

California

3,150

6.2 million

0.05%

5

Virginia

2,234

1.26 million

0.18%

6

Maryland

2,205

850,000

0.26%

7

New Jersey

1,504

1.35 million

0.11%

8

North Carolina

1,191

1.5 million

0.08%

9

Georgia

1,154

702,000

0.15%

10

Louisiana

1,071

1.7 million

0.07%

Data is courtesy of the Center for American Progress

The federal government requires public schools to provide English language instruction for students with limited English proficiency, including immigrant children. However, the federal government also provides grants to cover some of the costs that states incur. The Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, for example, has already requested additional federal funding for the cost of meeting the educational needs of the increasing numbers of foreign-born students in his district.  In Dalton County, Georgia, the public school system has launched a Newcomer Academy specifically to assist recently arrived children with basic English language and technology skills. In fact, most cities already have robust services for educating new immigrants and English-language learners, not only through public school resources but also through non-profit, faith-based, and community organizations. Even cash-strapped cities such as Chelsea, Massachusetts have been able to unite as a community to adapt and absorb the children arriving from Central America. Moreover, the Principal at San Francisco International High School attests that the school’s unaccompanied minor students “are some of the most resilient and brilliant young people [she has] ever seen.”

 

7. What public health risk do these children pose? Don’t they strain local health resources?

 One misconception about unaccompanied children is that they have a myriad of health issues and present a public health risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these concerns are unfounded. Most children arriving from Central America already received some or all recommended childhood vaccines before traveling to the U.S.  All arriving children are screened for tuberculosis (TB) and signs of any other diseases at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) border stations.  Only a handful of children have arrived with TB or chicken pox.  Any child found to have an infectious disease is isolated and treated immediately by a local hospital. Hospitals can seek federal reimbursement for any services provided.  

 Once the children are transferred from CBP to ORR custody, they all receive a more extensive medical and mental health examination in addition to any needed vaccinations. Unaccompanied children are eligible for vaccines through the Vaccines for Children Program (VCF), a federal vaccination program for children living in the U.S. without insurance. In the case of an emergency or medical need that cannot be met at the ORR shelter, a child may be seen at a local healthcare facility. However, the cost of medical care for children in ORR custody is paid for entirely by the federal government.

 Only healthy children are released from federal shelters to live with a sponsor. If a child has a medical condition that constitutes a public health threat, ORR will not release that child. Upon agreeing to care for a child, the sponsor receives a copy of the child's medical and immunization records compiled during his or her stay in an ORR shelter. Moving forward, it is the responsibility of the sponsor – not the federal government - to ensure that the minor’s physical and mental health needs are being met and to take the child to see a doctor if he or she becomes sick. Because they do not have legal status, the children generally will not qualify for most public health benefits. However, they may be eligible for certain services such as emergency room care and charity care from medical providers in the communities in which they live.

 

8. I’ve heard that some of the children are gang members and criminals. Are we safe with them living in our communities?

 The children arriving at our border seeking protection are fleeing violence from gangs, drug cartels, traffickers, and other organized crime, not perpetrating violence.  Many of these children embark on the arduous, dangerous journey to the U.S. because they have been victims of gangs and are trying to escape gang violence or recruitment in Central America. All ORR shelters have law enforcement and security services provided by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service. Any child who is found to have been charged with a crime, threatens or commits violence, or presents a danger to herself or others, may be removed from the shelter and placed in a more secure facility. Likewise, any children who were found to be a risk to public safety would not be released by ORR to a relative or other sponsor.   

 

9. Will the children use other social services in my community?

 As mentioned above, every unaccompanied child who enters the U.S. is placed into deportation proceedings. Thus, their permission to stay is only temporary - until an immigration judge makes a decision in his or her case. During this time, all children are under the care of either a sponsor or the federal government, which takes the burden off of state and local governments and communities. If a child is found to qualify for asylum, Special Immigration Juvenile Status, or a visa for victims of trafficking or crime, he or she will eventually have the right to apply for a green card and, ultimately, U.S. citizenship. Once children receive asylum or another type of immigration status, they become eligible for certain public benefits. Those children found not to qualify for immigration relief will be ordered deported.

 During their temporary stay, legal service providers, educators, health providers, and state and local governments are working together to respond in a coordinated way. For years, cities across the country have been building systems to help integrate newcomers into the local economy and social fabric of the community. Many cities already have strong infrastructure and networks to welcome immigrants and are prepared to support and address the limited and temporary social service needs of Central American youth.

 

10. Shouldn’t taxpayer funds go to help our own children before helping children from other countries?

 Certainly there are many American children whose educational, health, and other needs are not being met. Recognizing the value and the dignity of every child, we must have compassion for the difficult situations that Central American families find themselves in and do what we can to ensure that their children receive the same protection that we would want for our own children if their safety were threatened. The U.S. has a long history of absorbing into our communities refugee children fleeing civil war, conflict, and violence. From 1934 to 1945, Americans funded the rescues of more than 1,000 unaccompanied Jewish children fleeing the Holocaust who were subsequently placed in foster families, with relatives, and in schools and facilities across the U.S. In the early 1960s, the U.S. government permitted more than 14,000 Cuban children seeking refuge to come to this country to be reunited with relatives and friends or cared for by the Catholic Welfare Bureau in temporary shelters. In 2001, nearly 4,000 Lost Boys of Sudan - orphans from the longest civil war in Africa – were resettled in the U.S. as refugees. These children were quickly integrated and became valuable and contributing members of American communities. If there is help or protection that we can provide, shouldn’t we act with compassion for these children?

 

This document was prepared in August 2014. It is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. For questions, please contact State & Local Advocacy Attorney Jen Riddle at jriddle@cliniclegal.org or (301) 565-4807.




[1] While three emergency shelters were set up this Spring at military bases in Oklahoma, Texas, and California, these are now closing due to the declining numbers of arriving children.

[2] For more information about foster care for unaccompanied refugees and immigrant children, see http://www.usccb.org/about/children-and-migration/upload/URM-FAQ-s.pdf.