State Letter #02-07
Reclassification of Unaccompanied Minors
TO: STATE REFUGEE COORDINATORS
FROM: Nguyen Van Hanh, Ph.D.,
Office of Refugee Resettlement
Re: Reclassification of Unaccompanied Minors
Over the past year, the number of minors served in Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program has more than tripled, primarily in the following categories:
- Referrals from overseas, most notably from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, but also from other areas;
- Reclassification requests for minors granted asylum by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) or arriving here as entrants, and
- Reclassification requests for refugee minors who arrived here accompanied by relatives or guardians, but whose family circumstances changed drastically after arrival.
In response to the increase in the latter two categories, ORR is now re-issuing its guidelines for reclassification. ORR previously issued policy guidance in ORR State Letter # 01-27 regarding reclassification in cases where the age of the youth was in dispute. Please refer to that State letter for additional guidance in reclassification requests relating to the age of the youth.
Placement in ORR's unaccompanied minors program is limited to 14 designated programs able to provide refugee-appropriate child welfare services. These specialized services are provided in Boston, Massachusetts; Tacoma and Seattle, Washington; Fargo, North Dakota; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Rochester and Syracuse, New York; Jackson, Mississippi; Richmond, Virginia; Newark, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; Lansing and Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Phoenix, Arizona. If the Director of ORR approves the referral for reclassification from the State Refugee Coordinator administering one of the 14 sites, minors residing in other States may be transferred to an above-mentioned State.
When a refugee program official identifies a minor in need of culturally appropriate foster care services, the official should confer with the State Coordinator regarding the referral. The State Coordinator should then notify the children's services division of either of the two voluntary agencies which coordinate URM services for ORR-the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The volag will explore the suitability and appropriateness of placement with its affiliates. When an appropriate placement is found, the volag will notify the referring State Refugee Coordinator of the anticipated placement at the preferred site. If the placement is out of State, the volag will work with both the referring State Coordinator and the receiving State Coordinator to ensure that the needs of the minor are met during the transition to the new resettlement site.
When the volag has secured the verbal approval for the placement from both State Refugee Coordinators, the volag will notify the affiliate to send a letter to their State Refugee Coordinator to request reclassification of the child to unaccompanied minor status. The affiliate letter to the receiving State Refugee Coordinator should explain the background of the reclassification request, provide case summary information justifying the request, and address each of the six conditions of reclassification listed below. Voluntary agencies and affiliates may send copies of information to ORR to provide advance notification of a request, but the State agency must initiate requests for reclassification.
The receiving State Coordinator should then prepare a cover letter indicating the State's support of the reclassification request and mail the material to the Director of ORR, along with a copy addressed to the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors team. The State should also fax a copy of the letter to Loren Bussert at (202) 401-5487. This is very important because mail delivery to ORR has been severely impacted by the need to irradiate mail addressed to Federal agencies. Currently, mail is delivered to ORR approximately 45 days after postmark.
ORR will reclassify a minor to unaccompanied status if the following conditions are met:
- The minor is eligible for ORR-funded benefits and services; that is, she must be a refugee, asylee, Amerasian, Cuban or Haitian entrant, or a victim of a severe form of trafficking, as determined by ORR.
- No parent of the minor has lived in the U.S. since the child's arrival here.
- No relative or non-related adult has ever had legal custody of the child in the U.S.
- With respect to a child who entered the U.S. accompanied by a non-parental relative or non-related adult, or who entered the U.S. for the purpose of joining a non-parental relative or non-related adult, the child is not currently living in the home of such a relative or adult.
- An appropriate court has placed legal responsibility for the child with the State or local public child welfare agency or with a licensed non-public agency under contract with the State to provide services to unaccompanied minors.
- The State has reported the child to ORR as an unaccompanied minor and as part of the official State program for unaccompanied minors, and the State meets all other program and reporting requirements.
The last two conditions are satisfied if the State includes a statement of assurance in its reclassification request that it will file a petition for custody and submit the proper forms to ORR when reclassification is approved.
Requests for reclassification are considered on a case-by-case basis. Once ORR receives all pertinent information, requests are evaluated and processed promptly. In some cases, the Director may waive one or more conditions of eligibility. For example, ORR has in the past waived the second condition for refugee children whose parents died shortly after arrival in the U.S.
If ORR approves the reclassification request, the determination is effective with the date of the State's request. The receiving State Coordinator is responsible for arranging transit of the minor to the receiving site, and may include the minor's cost of transportation to the new resettlement site in his financial reports.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact Loren Bussert of my staff by telephone at (202) 401-4732, by E-mail at LBUSSERT@ACF.DHHS.GOV, or by fax at (202) 401-4587