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Unaccompanied Children (UAC) Detainee Problems

President Barack Obama has instructed FEMA to help find emergency housing for the dramatic influx of unaccompanied child migrants who have been apprehended in 2013 and the first five months of 2014. Currently the U.S. government has many thousands of minors in custody for entering the country without documents. The White House is considering housing the minors at military facilities, according to Associated Press reports. (See the U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures on unaccompanied children apprehended through May 31, 2014.)

A Catholic Bishops Conference report released in November 2013 cited Office of Refugee Resettlement and Department of Homeland Security estimates that as many as 60,000 unaccompanied minors could enter the United States in 2014. This estimate is more than twice the estimated 25,000 from last last year, and more than ten times the 2012 estimate of 5,800, according to news from the bishops.

The vast majority of these children are from Central America. They are not all orphans, but they do not know or will not tell the whereabouts of their parents. So U.S. officials are in a quandry about what to do with so many underage detainees.

CBIG interviewing Central American migrants

Central American mother talks to CBIG researchers Bárbara Gómez Aguiñaga (dark blue sweater) and Caroline Gonzales (light blue blouse) as two child migrants look on, in a migrant shelter in Chiapas, Mexico. The mother and the two children were unrelated, but all three were migrating to the United States. (Photo: CBIG's Richard J. Schaefer)

Minors from Central America are running from the violence that has become endemic in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services has data indicating that 95 percent of UACs in detention are from these countries. In contrast with their Mexican counterparts, children from Central America are not repatriated in a timely manner because most parents do not have the resources or a permanent address in the country of the children’s birth.

These children are refugees from the horrific conditions in parts of Central America today, where murder rates have increased dramatically in recent years and are generally three or four times higher than those during the cartel violence of 2010 in Mexico, according to CBIG reports. And orphanages and other shelters for repatriated children are more than overflowing in Central America, so many minors are simply kept in detention facilities in the United States--facilities where the young migrants are sometimes subjected to sexual predation, according to a report by Susan Carroll of the Houston Chronicle.

In 2013, migration and border officials apprehended 24,668 UACs, mostly along the U.S.-Mexican border. Many of the children have been released to relatives in the United States who are undocumented themselves. The rest are being placed into foster care by the Office of Refugee Resettlement or Department of Health and Human Services or deported. But the numbers have grown so dramatically that many are simply being kept in custody in the United States.

In December 2012, University of New Mexico student, and CBIG, UNM Washington News Bureau and Talk Radio News Service contributor, Amy Walker, wrote an alarming report on the growing number of unaccompanied children being housed in detention. (Download a PDF version of Amy Walker’s report.)