AUSTIN, Texas–The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which has the responsibility for all “unaccompanied alien children” (or UACs, as they are called under the Homeland Security Act), released statistics regarding the number of children who had been released to family and friends across the United States.
As reported by blogger Ulysses Arn, from January 1 through July 7 of this year ORR handed 30,040 children over to the custody of a parent, relative, or family friend. The Homeland Security Act requires ORR to seek placements that are in the best interest of the child, and this is a favored type of placement because of the benefits to the child’s well being and the transfer of the financial responsibility to the sponsor. From ORR’s website:
[W]e have the responsibility to continuously seek placement options in the child’s best interest. This typically involves releasing children to sponsors. Sponsors are adults who can suitably provide for the child’s physical and mental well-being and have not engaged in any activity that would indicate a potential risk to the child.
We try to place the child with a parent, and if that is not possible, with a relative, and if that is not possible, with a family friend. We do not restrict placements based on the immigration status of the parent or other sponsor. All sponsors receive a background check that includes a public records name and address check to search for criminal history; review of any criminal history the sponsor self-reports during the reunification process; and through interviews with the child. If the sponsor is not a parent or legal guardian of the child, a fingerprint check is also conducted.
We ensure that children are vaccinated and medically cleared before placing them with a sponsor. We do not release any children who have a contagious condition.
The sponsor is responsible for ensuring the minor’s presence at all future immigration proceedings. They are also responsible for ensuring the minor reports to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for removal from the United States if an immigration judge issues a removal order or voluntary departure order.
However, many have questioned the wisdom of this approach, considering both the high cost of transporting the children across the country, the impact on local school systems from a sudden spike in enrollment, and the difficulty of keeping track of them once they are here, especially since efforts to halt the influx at the border have been slow. One of the most significant planned responses to the border crisis, Governor Rick Perry’s order to deploy Texas National Guard troops to the border, is not scheduled to start for 30 to 45 days, and President Obama is entangled in a contentious debate with Congress on his multi-billion dollar funding request.
Perhaps most noteworthy, as noted above, ORR’s own policies do not allow them to consider the immigration status of potential sponsors, and then places responsibility for future compliance with immigration proceedings with the sponsors, who may be illegally remaining in the United States themselves.
The table below shows the number of children that ORR is reporting were released to the custody of sponsors in each state. Reportedly, they will update these figures during the first week of each month moving forward.
Unsurprisingly, Texas, as ground zero for the current border crisis, had the highest number of children placed with sponsors: 4,280. Other states that took in a high number of children were New York (3,347), Florida (3,181), California (3,150), Maryland (2,205), and Virginia (2,234).
Sarah Elizabeth Rumpf is a political and communications consultant living in Austin. You can follow her on Twitter at @rumpfshaker.