Toolkit for Working with Unaccompanied Children

There has been a dramatic increase in unaccompanied children and families with young children fleeing to the United States since the beginning of 2014.  Children are detained and placed in removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge.  They may be released from custody but they still must fight their case in court.  Children's cases in Immigration Court are very complicated yet even children do not have the right to appointed counsel.  The most common forms of relief sought by unaccompanied children are Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) for children who are the victims of abuse, abandonment and neglect or asylum, primarily gang related or child abuse claims.  The following resources provide information about the surge in unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S. border and the common forms of relief available to them.


Resources by type: 

1. News and Updates


Provides an update on the detention of unaccompanied children and families and the use of expedited hearings in immigration court.

CLINIC facilitated a briefing for Congressional staffers on how proposed changes to the TVPRA would harm unaccompanied immigrant children.


2. Background Reports and Other Information

Statistics from USCIS on minor principal applicants (affirmative asylum applicants under the age of 18 at the time of filing) and asylum applicants of any age filed with USCIS under the initial jurisdiction provision of the TVPRA while in removal proceedings.

Links to TRAC’s free query tools, which allow users to search for data on immigration proceeding processing times by nationality, immigration court backlogs, and outcomes for juveniles in removal proceedings.

Department of State fact sheet outlining the process, beginning December 2014, for a parent who is lawfully present in the U.S. to request a refugee resettlement interview for unmarried children under 21 in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Denied applicants will be considered for parole on a case-by-case basis.

Some answers about why children and their families are detained, where they are held, and what their lives are like in detention.

This webinar discusses why unaccompanied children are coming to the United States, where they are detained, what services the Church is providing, and how you can help.   Panelists include experts on the root causes of migration from Central America and the emergency, social, and legal services available to these minor children. 

Since October 2013, more than 57,000 children have entered the United States along the Southern border.  This is twice the number that entered in all of last year.  Read the questions and answers below to learn more about why children are fleeing their homes, what they experience when they arrive in the United States, what the Catholic Church is doing, and how you can help.

This report highlights violence in the home country as a primary factor pushing children to flee Central America.  

Responds to questions regarding legal issues affecting unaccompanied children, the interplay of various federal statutes and regulations, administrative and judicial decisions, and settlement agreements pertaining to unaccompanied children.  

Provides an overview of the processing and treatment of unaccompanied children apprehended at the border and administrative and congressional responses to the recent surge in unaccompanied children. 

Report on the humanitarian impact of the current situation by analyzing the reasons that unaccompanied children leave their homes.

Report on the treatment of immigrant children in removal proceedings and other administrative adjudicatory venues.  Highlights the need for children to have mandated legal counsel for removal proceedings, child advocates, and argues that “the best interests of the child” must be a primary consideration throughout all procedures and actions concerning unaccompanied immigrant children.

Details how unaccompanied children move through the immigration system and describes the government agencies, actors, and policies involved.

USCCB/MRS provides an overview of its work with unaccompanied children and describes ways the public can help

Statistics from the Office of Refugee Resettlement showing state by state where children are resettling after release from ORR custody. 

Statistics from the Office of Refugee Resettlement showing county level data in counties where more than fifty children have resettled after release from ORR custody. 

3. Legal Authority/Agency Memoranda

Guidance from Chief Immigration Judge Brian O’Leary on court practices, including a reminder that judges have discretion to grant continuances to obtain representation or for other reasons, including state or juvenile court action. 

New regulation empowering the EOIR to appoint temporary judges in response to the surge of unaccompanied immigrant children.

Section 235 includes provisions regarding the treatment of unaccompanied children arriving from contiguous and non-contiguous states.

Provides updated guidance to USCIS Asylum Offices on determining jurisdiction in asylum applications filed by unaccompanied children under the initial jurisdiction provision of the TVPRA of 2008.  Modifies Section III.C of the March 25, 2009 memo below.

Provides guidance to USCIS Asylum Offices regarding the “initial jurisdiction” provision of the TVPRA.

Interim guidance for the implementation of asylum jurisdictional provision of the TVPRA in immigration courts, giving the Asylum Office initial jurisdiction over asylum applications filed by unaccompanied children.

Operating Policies and Procedures Memo (OPPM) provides guidance for immigration judges adjudicating unaccompanied children’s cases.

Guidance from Chief Immigration Judge Brian O’Leary on court practices, including a reminder that judges have discretion to grant continuances to obtain representation or for other reasons, including state or juvenile court action. 

Guidance from Chief Immigration Judge Brian O’Leary on court practices, including a reminder that judges have discretion to grant continuances to obtain representation or for other reasons, including state or juvenile court action. 

Provisions defining eligibility for SIJS.

Proposed SIJS regulations regarding the implementation of TVPRA of 2008.

Guidance for immigration officers about TVPRA’s affect on the adjudication of SIJS petitions.

Provides age out protection for SIJS applicants whose petitions were denied or revoked upon turning 21 if, at the time the class member files the petition or application, he or she is under 21 years of age or is the subject of a valid dependency order even if dependency is later terminated on the basis of age.

Statutory provisions pertaining to asylum.

Guidelines from Asylum Officer Basic Training Course

 Provides Asylum Officers with guidance on adjudicating children’s asylum claims.

 Substantive and procedural guidance on carrying out refugee status determinations.

 A collection of asylum cases compiled by U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants related to claims involving gang violence or street children.


Settlement agreement established nationwide policy for the detention, treatment, and release of unaccompanied children.


Permanent injunction prohibits DHS from coercing or otherwise improperly encouraging Salvadorans detained by immigration authorities to waive their rights.


This nationwide class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of children challenging the federal government’s failure to provide them with legal representation in removal proceedings.  A motion for injunctive relief was filed requiring the government to permit the children time to find legal representation or to provide them with representation if their cases are expedited. 

4. Other Legal Resources

CLINIC has created a self directed e-learning course to provide guidance to new attorneys, fully accredited representatives, and pro bono attorneys representing and assisting immigrant children in removal proceedings.

KIND training manual for pro bono attorneys representing unaccompanied children

Practice advisory discussing legal relief for unaccompanied children, including SIJS and asylum.

Provides a brief overview of the current law governing the removal of unaccompanied children from the United States and recent legislative proposals that would modify this process.

Summary of the Perez-Olano Settlement and its effect on SIJS cases.


Overview of the TVPRA changes to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.


Trainings and sample materials available for advocates working with SIJS clients.


Manual and sample materials for New York SIJS cases


This manual guides attorneys through the process of obtaining guardianships and SIJS predicate orders through the Central District Court in Los Angeles County, CA.  

Provides an overview of three important defenses to removal.

Compares procedures employed in unaccompanied children’s asylum claims with those used in the claims of adults and families

Request assistance on an asylum case through CGRS’ technical assistance request page.

5. Advocacy Materials

Provides the minimum and maximum ages that students are required to attend school in each of the 50 states.

This webinar addresses advocacy on behalf of unaccompanied children residing with sponsors and relatives across the United States as they await their immigration hearings

10 suggestions on how to show support for unaccompanied children.

Answers to questions about when and how unaccompanied children may come to live in your community and what impact they might have on local schools, healthcare services, and public safety

This template letter can be used to advocate that a particular school enroll an unaccompanied minor and outlines the constitutional right of children to an education regardless of immigration status. Consider adding any information about state-specific laws to this template letter.   

This FAQ discusses children’s fundamental right to education in the United States, regardless of immigration status, including information about whether a school may ask for a child’s Social Security Number.

CLINIC and other national advocates respond to Vice President Biden’s call for increased efforts to provide representation.  The letter offers recommendations on how the Administration can help reduce barriers to timely and high quality legal services. 

Review examples of state and local resolutions seeking to meet the housing, legal services, healthcare, and educational needs of young migrants in your community.

A coalition of non-profit legal service providers and law firms creates the D.C. Baltimore Area Pro Bono Immigration Project and requests a meeting with EOIR to discuss access to counsel for unaccompanied children.