Urgent Humanitarian Crisis Overview
The surge of unaccompanied minors is a migration emergency that is growing in national attention as increasing numbers of children flee violence and extreme poverty in their home country and cross the border into the U.S. Below is a brief overview of this crisis, along with some resources for more in-depth information.
What are the numbers? Some 60,000 minors have arrived in the past eight months and more than 30,000 are expected in the next four months. While the numbers have been increasing over the past two years, this is an exponential spike and this number is expected to increase.
Where they are coming from? A majority of the children currently arriving at the border come from the Central American countries of Honduras (28 percent), Guatemala (24 percent), and El Salvador (21 percent), with the bulk of remaining children coming from Mexico (25 percent).
Why are they coming? There are several main push factors: faltering economies, large youth population, and rising crime and gang activity. There are also pull factors: the desire for family reunification and changing operations of smuggling networks.
What happens to the children when they get to the U.S.? If a child migrant enters the U.S. as a national of Mexico he/she is eligible for voluntary return as long as this person is not a victim of trafficking. Children from Central American countries are quickly transferred by the Border Patrol into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They are then released into the custody of a relative or family friend. The 10 percent or so that cannot locate a relative are placed into foster care. Currently, the average wait in ORR custody is 35 days. With existing children’s shelters at capacity, military installations are housing many of these children during this wait.
As they are released to a relative, the children are put into removal proceedings. This involves being scheduled for immigration court in the community where they are to live. At this time, the average wait before their court date is 18 months. 60 to 90 percent1 of unaccompanied children are eligible for immigration relief, allowing them to remain in the United States legally. Those granted relief are typically given asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status (for children who can establish in a state juvenile court that they were abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents), or a U or T visa (for children who were victims of certain crimes or human trafficking).
How is JFON addressing this issue?
JFON’s legal expertise and national infrastructure places it in a unique position to respond to this current crisis both in the short-term and the long-term. Our staff attorney at JFON Austin has extensive experience in SIJ cases and relationships with providers in Texas, where we plan to collaborate. National Justice For Our Neighbors is currently finalizing ways to assist with immediate legal needs within shelters where minors are housed. To address the longer-term need, NFJON is actively pursuing funding to build the network’s capacity to undertake Special Immigrant Juvenile cases for these unaccompanied minors. We will keep you updated as plans progress!