The thousands of children who migrate to the U.S. unaccompanied each year are some of the most vulnerable migrants who cross our borders, and are in need of special protections. The transfer of custody of unaccompanied alien children to the Division of Unaccompanied Children’s Services (DUCS), from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has greatly improved the treatment of most unaccompanied children, and the recent passage of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) should further enhance protection for children.
However, significant child protection challenges remain under the current system. The roles of prosecutor and caretaker continue to be interwoven in a manner that interferes with the best interest of children. As a result, DHS exerts significant influence over care and custody of unaccompanied children despite the fact that DUCS is the legal custodian for this population. Children continue to be held in border patrol stations for weeks, sometimes without blankets, showers, or proper nutrition and recreation. Some children remain in DHS custody without their parents and are held in secure facilities intended for a criminal population and without access to appropriate services or legal counsel. No clear procedures exist for the safe repatriation of children who are removed.
Read our report on unaccompanied children, Halfway Home: Unaccompanied Children in Immigration Custody, to learn more.