Unaccompanied children placed in immigration proceedings in the United States are likely to encounter a complex web of policies and practices, numerous government agenciesâ€”each acting in accordance with a different mission and objectiveâ€”and a legal process that often takes years to resolve. Since 2005, the Vera Institute of Justice has administered the Unaccompanied Children Program, which provides access to legal services for people who are younger than 18, have no lawful immigration status, and have no parent or legal guardian in the United States available to provide care and custody. The program is funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services responsible for these children after apprehension and referral by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Vera's work on this project has given it unique access to a national network of legal services providers with expertise in representing unaccompanied children, as well as to quantitative and qualitative information about unaccompanied children from these providers and from ORR. This report is based on project staff's analysis of this material and their review of the most recent information about this population, including documents published by government agencies and nongovernmental organizations. It aims to demystify a sometimes daunting process by providing a thorough overview of the systemâ€”from the children's point of apprehension by immigration enforcement authorities to their release from government custody and the end of their immigration casesâ€”and to clearly describe the maze of government agencies, actors, and policies.