Children Entering the United States Unaccompanied: Introduction

Publication Date: January 30, 2015


The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Unaccompanied Alien Children’s Program provides a safe and appropriate environment to children and youth who enter the United States without immigration status and without a parent or legal guardian who is able to provide for their physical and mental well-being (referred to as “unaccompanied alien children”). In most cases, unaccompanied alien children are apprehended by U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration officials and then transferred to the care and custody of ORR.

ORR funds residential care providers that provide temporary housing and other services to unaccompanied alien children in ORR custody.  These care provider facilities are State licensed and must meet ORR requirements to ensure a high level quality of care. They provide a continuum of care for children, including placements in ORR foster care, group homes, shelter, staff secure, secure, and residential treatment centers. The care providers provide children with classroom education, health care, socialization/recreation, vocational training, mental health services, access to legal services, and case management.

ORR and its care providers work to ensure that children are released timely and safely from ORR custody to parents, other family members, or other adults (often referred to as “sponsors”) who can care for the child’s physical and mental well-being.  Unaccompanied alien children remain in ORR’s care and custody until they are released to a parent or other sponsor in the United States, are repatriated to their home country, obtain legal status, or turn 18 years old, at which time they are transferred to the custody of DHS.

How to Use this Guide

The ORR Guide to Children Entering the United States Unaccompanied is a summary of ORR policies for the placement, release and care of unaccompanied alien children in ORR custody. The guide is for members of the public and other stakeholders and is organized into five main sections.

These include:

  • Section One: Placement in ORR Care Facilities: Includes discussion of placement considerations; issues around special needs and safety, long term care, and related topics.
  • Section Two: Safe and Timely Release from ORR Care: How ORR finds, contacts, and and assesses potential sponsors; policies on background checks; effect of immigration status on sponsor eligibility; the release preference policy; and release planning.
  • Section Three: Review of required services including health care services, legal services, post release services, and unusual circumstances.
  • Section Four: Preventing, Detecting, and Responding to Sexual Abuse and Harassment: How care providers must implement ORR national standards for the detection, prevention, reduction, and punishment of rape and sexual assault in facilities that maintain custody of unaccompanied alien children.
  • Section Five: Program Management: Includes record-keeping, staffing and training, monitoring and other policies to ensure programs are compliant with ORR requirements and standards.

ORR envisions this product as a living document that may be updated as new policies are updated or incorporated into the program.

The Guide to Terms references commonly used concepts and other terms that may be used less frequently but have statutory standing and may be of interest to stakeholders.

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