Release of Unaccompanied Children to Sponsors in the U.S.
ORR has policies and procedures in place to ensure the care and safety of unaccompanied children (UC) who are apprehended in the United States without immigration status or a parent or legal guardian. These policies require the timely release of children and youth to qualified parents, guardians, relatives or other adults, referred to as “sponsors.”
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 directs that UC must “be promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.” The settlement agreement in Flores v. Reno, which is binding on the U.S. Government, establishes an order of priority for sponsors with whom children should be placed, except in limited circumstances.
The first preference for placement would be with a parent of the child. If a parent is not available, the preference is for placement with the child’s legal guardian, and then to various adult family members. ORR follows these requirements in making placement decisions.
Case Managers and Placement
Case managers are a crucial part of the placement process. They determine whether an individual is an appropriate sponsor, including verifying a potential sponsor’s identity and relationship to a child before releasing a child to a sponsor. They also require case managers to complete an assessment of the child’s past and present family relationships, and relationships to non-related potential sponsors.
Case managers are also required to:
- Interview prospective sponsors
- Require prospective sponsors to complete a “Authorization for Release of Information”
- Conduct background checks on all prospective sponsors
- Coordinate fingerprint checks of the FBI database for non-parental sponsors, or for parental sponsors where there is a documented risk to the safety of the child, the child is especially vulnerable, or the case is being referred for a mandatory home study
- Coordinate a check of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Central Index System in some cases.
Sponsors without Immigration Status
Since 2005, ORR has received immigration status information about potential sponsors and has a policy in place providing for the release of unaccompanied children (UC) to undocumented sponsors, in appropriate circumstances and subject to certain safeguards.
ORR has published guidance on immigration status and the sponsor placement process for UC. This document provides background and context to the development of this policy, and clarifies how it is implemented.
In this process, immigration status information is requested of sponsors, and may emerge through background checks. Immigration status is not used to disqualify potential sponsors. Instead, it is used to ensure the safety and well-being of the child by making sure that there is an adequate care plan in place that takes all relevant aspects of the sponsor into consideration.