This report — a compelling blend of original research and personal stories — examines how the United States handles the removal and return of some 43,000 unaccompanied child immigrants each year. It offers readers a comprehensive overview of the issue’s most pressing concerns, describes a broken system that is ripe for reinvention and spells out clear policy solutions aimed at ensuring the safety and well-being of this vulnerable demographic.
In America, our system for realizing the removal and repatriation of migrant children is broken
Findings & Stats
Removal vs. Repatriation
Removal refers to the act of federal authorities expelling a child based on their immigration status. This step precedes the child’s return — called repatriation— which begins when the U.S. relinquishes physical custody of the child in his or her country of origin.
What We Know: Removal
This report outlines eight key conclusions about how the removal of unaccompanied, undocumented children unfolds in the U.S. These findings include: these children are commonly denied access to a lawyer, transported in unsafe conditions and returned to unsafe conditions.
What We Know: Repatriation
In the U.S., repatriation efforts are riddled by a pervasive lack of policies and procedures. Research for this report suggests a dire need for formal structures aimed at safeguarding children from potentially abusive treatment while compelling the agencies involved to apply child welfare standards.
Room for Improvement
The Center for Public Policy Priorities makes broad recommendations for improving how the U.S. handles the removal and repatriation of undocumented, unattended children. This guidance involves mandating pre-return assessments, establishing safe child escort protocols, incorporating oversight by child welfare experts and standardizing inter-agency data collection and sharing.
Legal Representation Lacking
All children from non-neighboring countries who are officially entered into immigration proceedings in the U.S. should have access to legal counsel and an assessment of their rights. In reality, however, up to 70% of detained unaccompanied children lack legal representation when facing an immigration judge.
Meet the Children
This report is punctuated with the personal stories of children from Mexico and Honduras who traveled to the U.S. unaccompanied and experienced the removal and repatriation processes firsthand.
Location, Location, Location
Children are subject to different removal processes based on their native country’s proximity to the U.S. Undocumented, unattended children from neighboring countries are often removed via the nearest port of entry and without being formally entered into the immigration system. Children from countries that do not border the U.S. are either deported or must choose between an administrative or voluntary departure.
Statements & Quotations
Every year, the United States apprehends tens of thousands of undocumented children under the age of 18 — many of whom travel to this country unaccompanied, without their parent or legal guardian.
The United States and its agencies have a responsibility to raise the standard for the humane treatment of unaccompanied children from neighboring countries.
Our immigration systems are currently not equipped to properly receive, assess and return children.