Accompanying the Unaccompanied

Accompanying the Unaccompanied

Jessica Richard, December 2014

Are you a mother, father, brother, sister, guardian of a child 18 years or younger? Could you ever imagine them leaving home and traveling for miles, alone and in great danger to illegally enter the United States? The people of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have been taking this journey for years; however, this past summer the number of unaccompanied minors who arrived in the U.S was astonishing. Beginning in October of 2011, there was a drastic rise in the number of unaccompanied minors that were arriving at the border. By May of 2012, Texas Governor Rick Perry warned President Obama of the continuing sharp increase. On June 15, 2012, President Obama made an announcement about a new program with regards to deferring deportation of illegal immigrants who lived in the U.S since June 2007 [1]. This messaged created a perception in Central America that illegals would be protected in the United States and in the following months illegal immigrants crossing the border began to increase even more. The process of legal immigration to the U.S is an extremely long and expensive process that many, if not all, of these children and their families cannot afford. These children must escape their home countries because they fear for their lives. A large majority of the United States population has no knowledge of the journey these minors go through, from leaving their homes to arriving in the United States. The journey they go on is long and dangerous and the process they go through once they arrive is not easy. Because of the relevancy of this issue in current news, this article will look to inform the United States public on not only the journey these minors are taking but also the United States system for illegal immigration.

The Women’s Refugee Commission reported that from 2004-2011 around 7,000 immigrants were arriving illegally at the border and by 2013 around 24,000 had arrived. This past summer an additional 57,000 unaccompanied minors arrived and by September a total of 90,000 minors had traveled to the border [2]. Illegal immigration from these countries has been occurring for years, however, this past year the population that is traveling is completely different. In past years, the vast majority was older male teens, now it consists mainly of females 14 years or younger. These young girls arrive either with children of their own already or are pregnant from being raped on their journey here [3]. It is horrible to realize that these children are aware of the dangers this journey has, however, their home countries are so full of gang violence that they would rather try to make it to the United States then die at home [4]. The importance of the unaccompanied minors issue in regards to American citizenship, is not only to bring light to the struggles of these minors, but to also provide knowledge of the system to which the United States has in regards to illegal immigration.

Most of these children are traveling from a region in Central American known as the “Northern Triangle”. This area has very high rates of violence and homicide and the economy is extremely bad. The children are traveling to the United States to escape the violence, lack of protection, family abuse, and forced marriage that is occurring back in their home countries [5]. Older minors typically choose to take this journey themselves while younger minors may be forced by their families who want them to get out of the danger in their countries. Many of the minors indicate that they feel they are in need of international protection while in the United States from people in their countries. Many children and families see the United States as a “safe haven” and believe that if they travel here they will be protected from the dangers back home [6].

The journey here is by no means easy, and many times they arrive in the United States only to be deported back to their country. They can be sent back for a number of reasons, they have no relatives or family to stay with or it has been determined that they are either not in danger at home or are part of a drug gang. Females, both women and children, are becoming the targets for gang related crimes. Gangs are competing for whom they can rape and make their “girlfriend” and these females are becoming the victims [7]. Many families are sending their daughters to the United States in hopes that they can get away from this violence and be protected. Both the parents and the children are aware of the violence that can happen on this journey, however, anything is better than the violence they are experiencing at home.

Children are the most vulnerable targets of violent crimes and sexual abuse along the journey to the United States. There are dangerous human smuggling networks along the way and children can be captured by them and sold into sex slavery or used to transport drugs [8]. Depending on their location, the journey can take them several days and in many cases they have no access to food or water. Not only is the journey to the United States risking their lives, but when these minors arrive at the United States border, their journey only gets harder.

Although they are children, they are still coming to the United States illegally and must go through a very rigorous legal process. The publics’ opinion on this topic is heavily divided, groups of people believing that we need to help these children while others believe they need to be deported back to their home countries [9]. The legal process of immigration is an extremely expensive process and takes a very long time. Since these children are coming here illegally the United States needs money to help put these children through the process. On July 8, 2014 Obama had requested 3.7 million dollars in emergency funding to provide care for the minors as well as to help speed up the process of deportation for some [10].

Depending on the way the minor has traveled here, they most likely have been without food or water for a long period of time, have not showered, are extremely tired, and in many cases are extremely sick and possibly pregnant. When Customs and Border Protection apprehend minors at the border they are placed in a Border Patrol facility immediately. The room in which they stay closely resembles a jail cell; an open toilet and sink, metal benches, concrete walls, no shower and no place to sleep [11]. After taking the long journey to the United States, this is not the most warm and welcoming place to be, however, it provides protection for the minors, which they have no had in a long time. In 2008 an anti-trafficking statute passed a law that all minors from Central America could not be deported back to their home countries until they have been given a court hearing to argue their case [12].

Within 72 hours of arriving in the United States, The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) must take custody of the minors. With the current increase of minors arriving here, many children have had to stay in the facilities at Customs and Border Protection for longer than the 72-hour window [13]. It has been a law that minors must not exceed this 72-hour window, but the increase has made it nearly impossible for the Office of Refugee Resettlement to find enough places to house the children. Once finally placed into a program within ORR they stay there for around 35 days. There has been numerous army bases that have opened up housing for these children throughout Texas to help with the over flow. During this time period the minor is appointed a Federal case worker. Their caseworker attempts to track down any relatives, care givers or foster parents that can sponsor the minor as they make their way through the legal system. Most minors get placed in a foster home, shelter or group home as their caseworker searches for any relative that can take responsibility for them [14].

In 1997, California federal court approved the Flores settlement, which made it a law that all juveniles had to be held in the least restrictive setting according to their age and needs and that they were to be fully protected and their well-being was not to be put in jeopardy [15]. This settlement also stated that juveniles had to be released to a “parent, legal guardian, adult relative, individual specifically designated by the parent, licensed program or an adult who seeks custody” [16]. It is because of this settlement that the Federal case workers must find adequate guardians for these minors. All minors are appointed a court date to have their case argued as to why they should stay here in the United States. The minor and their lawyer must appear before an immigration court to argue their case. This process is extremely terrifying for the minor, considering the only person they have on their side is their lawyer. If they qualify to stay, they continue through the legal process, if they are denied at their case they must be deported back to their home country. The minors’ journey does not end with their court hearing.

Once the minor is placed with a sponsor or relative they must attend public schools. It costs the United States around $9,200 per child per year of education they receive. In Texas alone, 4,200 minors have been placed with sponsors, all of which must attend public schools. Many of these minors have learning disabilities, speak little to no English and need lots of resources that cost the state more money [17]. Because of the program the United States has to offer these minors, it is possible for each child to receive this public schooling. These children are not gaining citizenship, however, they are receiving many of the privileges that U.S citizens have.

The minors from Central America are enduring a very violent and brutal journey to the U.S to escape the violence in their countries. There has always been a consistent flow of illegal immigration from Central America, but in the past months the number of minors arriving has drastically increased. Once arriving in the U.S these minors must endure a very long process to determine if they are able to stay here. The legal process of immigration costs a lot of money and time. These minors are traveling here illegally so the cost of their process is falling on the U.S government. However, the U.S has a program set in place for these illegal unaccompanied minors and because of this, they are able to get the help and protection that they come here in search of.


[1] “Fact Sheet: Unaccompanied Children from Central America” (Washington, DC: Office of the
Press Secretary, 2014)
[2] Michelle Brane, “What Happens when Unaccompanied Children arrive at the U.S Border?” (New York, NY: Women’s Refugee Commission, 2014)
[3] “Fact Sheet: Unaccompanied Children from Central America” (Washington, DC: Office of the
Press Secretary, 2014)
[4] Michelle Brane, “Border Surge of Unaccompanied Children: Why they’re coming and what
the Government should do” (New York, NY: Women’s Refugee Commission, 2014)
[5] Dan Restrepo and Ann Garcia, “The Surge of Unaccompanied Children from Central
America” (Center for American Progress, 2014)
[6] Jorge Rivas, “The Untold History of Unaccompanied Minors” (Beta Fusion, 2014)
[7] Michelle Brane, “Border Surge of Unaccompanied Children: Why they’re coming and what the Government should do” (New York, NY: Women’s Refugee Commission, 2014)
[8] Center for Gender and Refugee, A Treacherous Journey: Child Migrants Navigating the U.S Immigration System (San Franciso, CA: Center for Gender and Refugee,
[9] Jorge Rivas, “The Untold History of Unaccompanied Minors” (Beta Fusion, 2014)
[10] “The Obama Administration’s Government-Wide Response to Influx of Central American Migrants at the Southwest Border” (Washington, DC: Office of the Press Secretary, 2014)
[11] Michelle Brane, “What Happens when Unaccompanied Children arrive at the U.S Border?” (New York, NY: Women’s Refugee Commission, 2014)
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Michelle Brane, “Step-by-Step Guide on Apprehension and Detention of Juveniles in the United States” (New York, NY: Women’s Refugee Commission, 2014)
[16] Ibid.
[17] Julie Zauzmer and Moriah Balingit, “Countries look at cost of Educating Unaccompanied minors who crossed the border” (Washington Post, 2014)

Further Reading

American Immigration Council, Children In Danger: A guide to the Humanitarian
Challenge at the Border
(July 2014)

Meghan Keneally, “Jose’s Journey: One Unaccompanied Minor’s Escape From Violence and Redemption in America” (2014)

U.S Customs and Border Protection, “Southwest Border Unaccompanied Alien Children”.

Worcester State University Fall 2022