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A Treacherous Journey: Child Migrants Navigating the U.S. Immigration System addresses the issues raised by the recent historic and unabated increase in the number of children coming unaccompanied – without a parent or legal guardian – to the United States. From 6,000–8,000 unaccompanied children entering U.S. custody, the numbers surged to 13,625 in Fiscal Year 2012 and 24,668 in Fiscal Year 2013. The government has predicted that as many as 60,000 or more unaccompanied children could enter the United States in Fiscal Year 2014. These children come from all over the world, but the majority arrive from Mexico and Central America, in particular the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Children come unaccompanied to the United States for a range of reasons. Numerous reports and the children themselves say that increasing violence in their home communities and a lack of protection against this violence spurred them to flee. Children also travel alone to escape severe intrafamilial abuse, abandonment, exploitation, deep deprivation, forced marriage, or female genital cutting. Others are trafficked to the United States for sexual or labor exploitation. Upon arrival, some children reunite with family members they have not seen in many years, but their migration is often motivated by violence and other factors, in addition to family separation.
Comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) is an opportunity to re-work the U.S. immigration system to ensure that it is fair, leads to greater prosperity, and protects the most vulnerable among us. Ensuring a safe haven from persecution and other abuse to those in desperate need is one of the core values upon which the United States was built.
It is KIND's hope that this report will serve as a roadmap to a re-thinking of U.S. laws, policy, and practice towards unaccompanied children and lead to comprehensive reform that is based on a deeper understanding of their unique vulnerabilities and on a framework in which their well being and protection are paramount.
Part I of this Article will provide an overview of the demographics of unaccompanied children in the United States and the problems these children face; Part II will discuss U.S. government care and treatment of these children; Part III will provide an overview of the forms of relief from deportation for which unaccompanied children may be eligible; Part IV will highlight the lack of legal representation available to these children; and Part V will discuss pro- cedural aspects of U.S. immigration law that affect unaccompanied children.
Attending school and securing lawful status in the United States are two keys to safety and security for undocumented unaccompanied homeless youth.
This brief is designed to provide young people, immigration attorneys and advocates, McKinney-Vento liaisons and educators with basic information to help them access these keys. After describing some of the factors that cause youth to experience homelessness without a parent or guardian and the circumstances that result in immigrant youth being in the United States without their parents or guardians, the brief shares information about the federal laws that provide the means for youth to attend school and address their immigration status.
Some of these laws are very complex, and this document does not provide comprehensive information. Before seeking to enforce these rights, youth, educators and advocates should seek professional support through the resources offered at the end of the brief.