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State Letters - Policy Issuance: Re-classification to Unaccompanied Minor Program

Published: August 16, 2012

TO: STATE REFUGEE COORDINATORS

FROM: Carmel Clay-Thompson
Acting Director
Office of Refugee Resettlement

SUBJECT: Policy Issuance: Re-classification to Unaccompanied Minor Program

Over the past year, several thousand youth from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya have arrived in the U.S. under the U.S. refugee resettlement program. Nearly five hundred of these youth—under age 18 at the time of arrival in the U.S.—were resettled through the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) program. The remainder—about 3,500—were resettled in the U.S. under the regular refugee program.
The youths in the URM program are eligible for a wide range of benefits and services until age 18, or a higher age established by the State of resettlement in its child welfare plan under Part IV-B of the Social Security Act for the availability of child welfare services. Most of the States with URM affiliates sites allow youth to continue their education for a year or more after age 18. The youths over age 18 at the time of arrival, on the other hand, face the need for immediate employment and early self-sufficiency and, therefore, more limited opportunities for educational advancement.

The sharp division of the youths into two separate programs opens an issue about the accuracy of the dates of birth for these children. Some evidence suggests that the accuracy of these dates may be very low. Of the 90 youths recorded in the ORR database before the end of calendar year 2000, 89 recorded a birth date of January 1. These dates of birth apparently were chosen based on the best estimates of staff of the United Nationals High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Over the past several months, several States have requested that ORR reclassify youths as unaccompanied minors based on documentation that has surfaced since their arrival in the U.S. In order to provide for an equitable process of re-determining age eligibility for the URM program, ORR is establishing a formal policy regarding the submission of such documents. Beginning immediately, a request for re-classification to unaccompanied minor status based on a re-determination of age must be accompanied by as much of the following documentation as the local agency can obtain:

  • An affidavit from the youth as to how old he is and why he believes that he is that age.•An explanation from the youth or from knowledgeable other persons relating how the incorrect birth date was recorded in official records and by whom.•An explanation from the youth or other persons of how the alternative birth date was derived.•Where alternative documentation emerges which indicates that the affiant is younger than the age documented in INS records, an explanation of who obtained the alternative documentation (such as a birth certificate), the official authority from which it was obtained, and the line of custody of the alternative documentation since that time.
  • An explanation of why the youth did not use the alternative documentation to correct official records in the Kakuma camp, if it was available at the time.
  • A statement from the program director or the caseworker as to the general appearance of the youth and the opinions of staff, volunteers, and other youth as to his actual age, based on an assessment of the youth’s emotional and physical development.
  • The professional opinion of a doctor, dentist, or other health professional in support of the youth’s claim based on objective medical findings, such as dental exams, wrist x-rays or bone scans.
  • Where appropriate, a photocopy of the discovered birth document and a description from agency staff describing the appearance and credibility of the document. With these documents, the Director will determine whether the preponderance of evidence merits a change in date of birth and re-classification to unaccompanied minor status.

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.


TO: STATE REFUGEE COORDINATORS

FROM: Nguyen Van Hanh, Ph.D.,
Director
Office of Refugee Resettlement

Subject: 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.