On June 13, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters in a press conference that the federal government would do what was in the “best interest” of thousands of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) crossing the border into south Texas every week. He also denied that the taxpayer-funded care being provided to them was serving as an incentive to Central American families to send more of their children. But a closer look at the services UACs are receiving while they go through removal proceedings tells a different story.
Over the last several weeks, US Border Patrol stations in south Texas have been overrun with illegal immigrants from mostly Central America. Johnson said that since October 2013, agents have apprehended over 47,000 UACs, roughly double the 24,000 UACs who were apprehended the previous fiscal year. Prior to 2012, the average number of UACs under US government supervision averaged around 7,500 kids. According to procedures outlined in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, he stated the goal was to transport these children in “a safe and human manner” to the US Department of Health and Human Services, where they would be cared for by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
The primary goal of the ORR is to reunited UACs with family members or other legal guardians in the United States while they go through removal proceedings. However, if those family members or guardians are in the country illegally, there was no indication by DHS officials that those individuals would also be placed into removal proceedings despite the fact they have to provide a considerable amount of identification in order to claim a UAC.
Procedures for transporting and caring for UACs depend on the children’s ages. According to the ORR’s Division for Unaccompanied Children’s Services (DUCS), most UACs over the age of 13 are placed in shelters or group homes. However, for UACs ages 13 and younger who don’t have a relative or guardian who can care for them, “short and long-term foster care is available through ORR’s foster care program network.”