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Unaccompanied Minors Frequently Asked Questions

Information and frequently asked questions (FAQs) about unaccompanied minors.

Overview

The term unaccompanied minor has been used to describe children and youth experiencing homelessness as well as those crossing mostly the southern United States (US) border. This web page is intended to provide information related to the children and youth crossing the US border who meet the legal definition of an unaccompanied minor pursuant to Title 6, United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 279(g)(2). The federal statute defines unaccompanied minor as a child who has:

  • No lawful immigration status in the United States and
  • Not attained 18 years of age and
  • No parent or legal guardian in the United States, or no parent or legal guardian in the United States available to provide care and physical custody.

Children who enter the country without their parent/legal guardian and for other reasons have been separated from their parent/legal guardian are also considered as unaccompanied minors.

When unaccompanied minors arrive at the US border, US Border Patrol (USBP) and Office of Field Operations (OFO) are responsible for bringing them into their facility to be processed. Once it has been determined that the unaccompanied minors have met the criteria to stay, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) transfers them to the Unaccompanied Children (UC) Program. The UC Program is managed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The ORR provides shelter and care for the unaccompanied minors while determining the most appropriate placement for the unaccompanied minors in the US. A majority of unaccompanied minors are released to a safe and suitable sponsor, which most of the time is a parent or close relative. A small number of unaccompanied minors are released and placed in long-term foster care. In rare cases, an unaccompanied minor may be released to a secure facility. To view the steps followed once an unaccompanied minor has arrived at the US border, reference the Congressional Research Service (CRS) Unaccompanied Alien Children: A Processing Flow Chart External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF).

Unaccompanied minors that have been released from ORR to a sponsor and are awaiting immigration proceedings, have the same educational rights as other children. Under current law, immigration status does not preclude school-age children who reside in California from receiving a public education (Education Code Section 200). The 1984 Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe requires schools to enroll all eligible children regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. Districts must verify a student’s age and residency (address), but have some flexibility in what documents or supporting papers they use. Local educational agencies (LEAs) may not inquire or require documents pertaining to or disclosing immigration status. See the California Department of Education’s (CDE) Safe Havens Initiative web page for information about immigration law, children’s rights, public charge letters and resources, FAQs, as well as previous news releases, conference materials, and more.

FAQs

The following FAQs have been developed in response to questions that the CDE has received from LEAs in regards to the current surge in unaccompanied minors’ crossing the southern US border. These FAQs are intended to help LEAs navigate through some of the different topics related to unaccompanied minors.

General

  1. What are the terms, acronyms, and definitions used to describe unaccompanied minors?
    Term/Acronym Definition
    • Unaccompanied Minors or Youth (federal and state use)
    • Unaccompanied Children (UC) (federal and state use)
    • Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) (federal use)
    • Unaccompanied Undocumented Minors (UUM) (state use)
    A child who has: No lawful immigration status in the United States;
    • Not attained 18 years of age and
    • No parent or legal guardian in the United States, or no parent or legal guardian in the United States available to provide care and physical custody.1

    Children who enter the country without their parent/legal guardian and for other reasons have been separated from their parent/legal guardian also fall under this definition.2

    Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM)

    The URM program is administered both at the federal and state level. At the state level, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) administers the URM program by providing culturally responsive child welfare, foster care, and independent living services to unaccompanied refugee youth. Youth in the URM program have one of the following immigration statuses:

    • Refugees;
    • Cuban/Haitian entrants;
    • Asylees;
    • Victims of human trafficking who have an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) eligibility letter;
    • Non-citizen victims of domestic violence and other serious crimes who have been granted a U-Visa from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and meet all other eligibility requirements, or;
    • Minors who have received Special Immigrant Juvenile Status while in ORR’s custody.3

    Asylees

    Asylees are individuals who, on their own, travel to the United States and subsequently apply for or receive a grant of asylum. Asylees do not enter the United States as refugees. They may enter as students, tourists, on business, or with “undocumented” status (HHS, n.d.a).4

    Immigrant Children and Youth (for the purpose of Title III, Part A)

    Immigrant children and youth are individuals who (a) are aged three through twenty-one; (b) were not born in any state (each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico); and (c) have not been attending one or more schools in the United States for more than three full academic years.5

    Migratory children (for the purpose of Title I, Part C)

    A child is considered "migratory" if the parent or guardian is a migratory worker in the agricultural, dairy, lumber, or fishing industries and whose family has moved during the past three years. A "qualifying" move can range from moving from one residence to another or across school district boundaries due to economic necessity.6

    Newcomer

    Newcomer is an umbrella term for foreign-born students who recently arrived in the United States.3

    Refugee

    A refugee is a person who has fled his or her country of origin because of past persecution or a fear of future persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group (US Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2015).3

    Student with interrupted formal education (SIFE)

    Students in grades four through 12 who have experienced disruptions in their education in their native country and/or the United States, and/or are unfamiliar with the culture of schooling (Calderón, 2008).3

  2. From which countries are recent arrival unaccompanied minors coming?

    In fiscal year 2020, and the past eight years, the top three countries of origin were Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. For this information as well as other general statistics, see the ORR’s Facts and Data External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) web page.

  3. How many unaccompanied minors are currently in the care of ORR?

    For the current number of unaccompanied minors under the care of ORR, see the HHS UC Program External link opens in new window or tab. web page.

  4. Why are unaccompanied minors coming to the US?

    There are many different reasons why unaccompanied minors are coming to the US. Some youth are trying to escape gangs, violence, economic conditions, and poverty in their home country. Other youth may be trying to reunite with family in the US.7 Other reasons may be related to the economic slowdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent weather events (hurricanes) in the unaccompanied minors’ country of origin.8

  5. What is the LEA’s obligation to unaccompanied minors?

    In general, LEAs would not know if a child is an unaccompanied minor because an LEA may not inquire about or collect information on students and their family’s immigration status (see Overview section for more information). An LEA would only know if a child is an unaccompanied minor if the information was volunteered by the student or their family. Once an unaccompanied minor is enrolled with the LEA, the LEA’s obligation to the enrolled unaccompanied minor is the same as to any other enrolled student. They should be provided with the same educational services and opportunities as well as receive the same treatment as any other enrollees.

  6. What resources are available to help LEAs support unaccompanied minors?

    Below are some resources to help LEAs address trauma as well as provide academic, social-emotional, and other support to unaccompanied minors.

    • Californians Together – Support for Immigrant and Refugee Students External link opens in new window or tab.
      Californians Together Support for Immigrant and Refugee Students web page includes a guide for California educators and schools, classroom lesson modules for different grade spans, and more. It also includes resources in Spanish to support families of immigrant students during COVID-19.
    • Colorín Colorado External link opens in new window or tab.
      Colorín Colorado is a national organization that provides information and resources related to English language learners to educators and families. Colorín Colorado’s Special Population: English Language Learners web page provides articles, videos, booklists, FAQs, guides and toolkits, research and reports, and other resources related to English learners who are also newcomer students, SIFE, unaccompanied minors, refugee students, and from other special populations.
    • Californians Together – Support for Immigrant and Refugee Students External link opens in new window or tab.
      Californians Together Support for Immigrant and Refugee Students web page includes a guide for California educators and schools, classroom lesson modules for different grade spans, and more. It also includes resources in Spanish to support families of immigrant students during COVID-19
    • National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition – Newcomer External link opens in new window or tab.
      The National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA) newcomer information includes a series of papers that focus on the academic supports, social and emotional supports, and programs for newcomer students
    • US Department of Education Newcomer Toolkit External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
      The Newcomer Toolkit published by the US Department of Education includes five chapters that examine the following topics related to newcomer students: demographics, contributions, safe and thriving school environment, high-quality instruction, social emotional needs, and establishing partnership with families.
  7. Where can LEAs find additional FAQs related to unaccompanied minors?

    The following are additional FAQs related to unaccompanied minors:

Immigration Process

  1. How does the US federal government process unaccompanied minors once they arrive at the US border?

    When unaccompanied minors arrive at the US border, USBP and OFO are responsible for bringing them into their facility to be processed. Once it has been determined that the unaccompanied minors have met the criteria to stay, the ICE transfers them to the UC Program. The UC Program is managed by the ORR under the ACF within the HHS. The ORR provides shelter and care for the unaccompanied minors while they determine the most appropriate placement for the unaccompanied minors in the US. A majority of unaccompanied minors are released to a safe and suitable sponsor, which most of the time is a parent or close relative. A small number of unaccompanied minors are released and placed in long-term foster care. In rare cases, an unaccompanied minor may be released to a secure facility.

    For more detailed information regarding the federal government process upon the accompanied minors’ arrival, see pp 5–14 of the Unaccompanied Alien Children: An Overview External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) document prepared by the CRS.

  2. Which government agency is coordinating the emergency response for the influx of unaccompanied minors?

    The federal government is currently coordinating the emergency response for the influx of unaccompanied minors. The two federal government agencies involved in the emergency response are the Department of Homeland Security and the HHS.

  3. What services are provided at the emergency intake sites in Southern California?

    According to the HHS External link opens in new window or tab. website, the following services are provided to unaccompanied minors while under the care of ORR until they are released to a sponsor:

    • Classroom education
    • Health care
    • Socialization/recreation
    • Vocational training
    • Mental health services
    • Family reunification
    • Access to legal services; and
    • Case management
  4. Where do unaccompanied minors settle once they have been processed and released from the ORR?

    Once unaccompanied minors are released, they move to various states to live with their sponsors (e.g., parents, relatives, etc.). The HHS Unaccompanied Children Information External link opens in new window or tab. web page provides this data by state and county.

  5. Do unaccompanied minors enroll in a local public school while in the care of ORR?
    No. Unaccompanied minors are under staff supervision at all times while under the care of ORR. Unaccompanied minors do not attend local schools or integrate into the local community until they have been processed and released from the ORR.

1 6 U.S.C. Section 279(g)(2)
2 HHS. 2021. Unaccompanied Children Frequently Asked Questions External link opens in new window or tab.
3 CDSS. 2021. Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program External link opens in new window or tab.
4 US Department of Education. Office of English Language Acquisition. 2016. Newcomer Tool Kit External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
5
20 U.S.C. Section 7011(5), (13)
6 CDE. 2020. Overview of Migrant Education in California
7 Library of Congress, CRS. 2019. Unaccompanied Alien Children: An Overview External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
8 Chishti, Muzaffar, and Sarah Pierce. 2021. “Border Déjà Vu: Biden Confronts Similar Challenges as His Predecessors.” Migration Policy Institute External link opens in new window or tab.

Questions:   Language Policy and Leadership Office | 916-319-0845
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, August 3, 2021
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