n recent years, record numbers of unaccompanied immigrant children (UC) have crossed into the United States. Between 2017 and 2022, over 385,000 UC were apprehended crossing U.S. borders. This special population of immigrants are defined as children under the age of 18 who cross into the United States with no lawful immigration status and with no parent or legal guardian in the United States who is immediately available to provide care. Their reasons for coming are vast and include flight from violence, gangs, and/or economic instability and/or efforts to rejoin family that is already in the U.S. They travel to the Mexico/U.S. border alone, with smugglers, or in groups, some arriving with siblings, relatives, and/or children of their own.
What happens when unaccompanied immigrant children arrive in the U.S.?
The subsection below shows a general overview of the process that unaccompanied immigrant children experience once they enter the U.S. However, it is important to acknowledge that each child’s story is unique and, during times when a large number of immigrants are arriving at the border, they may experience delays and longer stays in custody. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is the primary government agency responsible for their immediate care and for locating an appropriate sponsor to whom to release them.
The Critical Importance of Kin for Unaccompanied Immigrant Children
What happens to these children post-release is of critical importance to kinship and grandfamily programs across the country. While many of these children are soon reunited with and released to parents who are already in the U.S., upwards of 60 percent are released to sponsors who are kin. Once released, unaccompanied immigrant children reside in communities throughout the U.S, with certain states, such as Texas, California, Florida, and New York, receiving higher numbers. To learn more, see the state and county data that is available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.