Thus far in fiscal year 2016 alone, 43,309 Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs) have been apprehended coming into the United States. The U.S government defines a UAC as a child who lacks immigration status, is under the age of 18, and who is present without a parent or legal guardian at the time of apprehension. Once apprehended by immigration officials or border patrol, children are placed in the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services; Office of Refugee Resettlement, Division of Children Services (ORR/DCS) until they are cleared to be released.
Reasons for Migration: Children migrate to the United States for many reasons including fleeing community and gang violence and lack of educational and economic opportunities. Many cities in Central America have corrupt government, and run by local gangs (ex. MS 13, Mara 18). These gangs charge the local community and business a fee for their protection; which they have no option. and seeking family reunification. Many of these children’s parents left them in the care of grandparents and relatives so that they could migrate to the United States to be able to find employment and send remittances back home to support their children, in hopes to one day be able to send for their children to be reunited once again. For many of these children there have been a pro long separation of at times over 5-10 years since they last psychical seen their parents and or guardians. Now their caretakers are elderly and unable to care for them any longer requesting that the parents send for them.
Trauma: Can you image a child/youth traveling by foot, on top of a freight train from one country to another? That is the method of transportation that many of these children endure to flee situations of violence and insecurity and seek safety and family reunification in the United States. The journey can be traumatizing for anyone, not to mention a child. During the migration journey, many UAC often experience or witness horrendous acts of crime and violence include murder, rape, kidnapping, and extortion. Many children have to stay in the ORR facility for a prolonged period of time. Many of the children have prior mental health issues from prior history of trauma, abuse or neglect. Apprehension by immigration authorities and placement in an unfamiliar place can often further exacerbate trauma symptoms.
Post Release Services: Once these children are reunified if they are deemed to be eligible for post release services these are the services they are assisted with:
- School Enrollment
- Pro-bono immigration legal services
- Low-cost medical care
- Access to mental health/counseling services
- Assistance navigating community resources
- Filing COA/COV
- Post 18 Planning
- Independent Living Skills
Tips for Schools:
- Support students who have experienced adversity or live in crisis.
- Provide an ongoing training, and professional development for ALL school staff with regards to this population and how to best meet their needs in the classroom.
- Provide a safe haven, and resources for students to be able to move from trauma to resilience.
- Find ways to partner with community and families to bring awareness and resources for this population.
- Promote awareness and introduce strategies that promote student/staff wellness.