IIL Banner 2013
September 2014: Issue 3.1   
In this Issue: 
Unaccompanied Minors
Current Research 

Immigration Malpractice: Young Latin Americans pay the price for America's policy blunders
Peter Skerry
August 18, 2014
The Weekly Standard
Read More Here > >
Children at the Border
August 7, 2014
NY Times

Los Angeles, CA
December 14th-16th, 2014
National Immigrant Integration Conference



Milan, Italy

November 3rd-7th, 2014

19th Metropolis International Immigration Conference


Unaccompanied Minors

A Social Worker's Perspective: Serving Unaccompanied Central American Minors

"It is imperative we ensure necessary protections for children fleeing violence seeking safety in the U.S.


The recent influx of unaccompanied minors arriving in the United States from Central America has gained international media attention, shining light on the issue and providing an opportunity to examine our response as a nation.There has been a significant steady increase in the numbers of unaccompanied minors over the past few years reaching new heights this year, at the peak of which around 300 children were arriving daily. Among these, the percentage of particularly vulnerable minors such as those under twelve years old, pregnant, or teenage parents has significantly increased. Over the past year, I have worked with programs for unaccompanied Central American minors, and have heard from children appalling accounts of violence in their home communities such as kidnappings of children by gangs in school; sexual assault of women and children; witnessing murders; and forceful recruitment of young boys into gangs and criminal activity. As children flee these violent conditions, seeking safety and reunification with family in the U.S., it is imperative that we ensure necessary protections are in place. 

Unaccompanied children face a variety of challenges as they navigate their arrival in the U.S., search for safety and permanency, and integrate into new communities. Following an often harrowing journey to the U.S., unaccompanied children are apprehended and detained by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).In addition to trauma on their journeys, a portion of minors report poor conditions and treatment in CBP detention facilities. Cold cells (referred to as ice boxes), a lack of blankets, appropriate food, and access to bathing facilities, verbal abuse by officers, and crowded conditions are chief complaints. Many children refer to their time in detention as when they were "in jail."

The Flores Settlement Agreement in 1997 created a nationwide policy for the detention, release, and treatment of minors in the custody of INS, now the Department of Homeland Security. Provisions made under the settlement mandate that children are moved expediently from border patrol facilities to the care of the US Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which funds licensed programs that offer a less restrictive setting, promoting the best interests of the child. For younger, more vulnerable children, this means entering foster care programs while teenagers generally enter shelter settings specifically for unaccompanied minors.

In these programs, minors receive support services (mental health, medical, and education) and program staff work to locate and assess family members or close friends for reunification. Assessments are conducted by case managers while the minor is in federal custody which include screenings for any trafficking concerns, child welfare risk factors, and the capacity of potential caregivers to meet each child's needs. With the recent spike in numbers, the pressure has been felt to ensure children are reunified as quickly as possible to open space for incoming minors.Working under pressure and striking the balance of thorough assessment and quick family reunification is a challenge requiring skillful case managers and clinicians.

Minors who do not have family with whom they can be reunified face return to their home country or remaining in long term foster care while a path to permanency is sought via the immigration court process. These children are often teenagers with trauma histories requiring higher levels of care. There is a national need for more culturally sensitive, trauma informed foster homes able to care for these minors on a long term basis. Unfortunately, if minors turn 18 before their immigration case is determined, they age out of the system and either face being detained with Immigration and Customs Enforcement as an adult or supporting themselves in the community.

The majority of minors discharged from the ORR system are able to be released to the care of a family member or friend. Finding stability and integration in local communities can present challenges, as these minors are deemed "undocumented" until the outcome of their immigration case which can often take years. The most frequent challenges I have observed involve families gaining access to legal, medical, and mental health services. Despite these challenges, at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) we have found that the majority of unaccompanied children are enrolled in school, are resilient, able to draw on support networks and internal strengths, and work hard to comply with the immigration court process in the hopes of obtaining legal status to remain in the U.S. With this knowledge based in service provision to unaccompanied children and their families, LIRS advocates nationally for policies promoting family unity, alternatives to detention, and enhanced protections for unaccompanied minors under the law. LIRS has encountered individuals and communities across the country extending support and welcome for unaccompanied children despite the political rhetoric, and hopes that we as a nation will stay true to our tradition of welcoming vulnerable newcomers.

Olivia Hogle
BC GSSW Class of 2013
Program Specialist, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Founded in 1939, LIRS is the second largest refugee resettlement agency in the U.S. It is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating with refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the U.S. Celebrating 75 years of service and advocacy this year, LIRS has helped more than 500,000 migrants and refugees rebuild their lives in America.


Boston College Graduate School of Social Work offers a certificate program in Refugee and Immigrant studies that allows students the opportunity to engage in concentrated study. Olivia Hogle, a recent graduate of the program, demonstrates the commitment to and expertise in the fields of immigration and welfare.  


The Florence Immigrants and Refugee Rights Project 

Although the federal government assists indigent criminal defendants and civil litigants through public defenders and legal aid attorneys, it does not provide attorneys for people in immigration removal proceedings. As a result, an estimated 86% of immigrant detainees go unrepresented because they cannot afford a private attorney. The Florence Project provides and coordinates free legal services to more than 3,000 indigent men, women, and unaccompanied children on any given day detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Arizona for immigration removal proceedings. The nationally-acclaimed Florence Project strives to ensure that detained individuals have access to counsel, understand their rights under immigration law, and are treated fairly and humanely by our judicial system. Moreover, they strive to address these inequities through direct social services, partnerships with the community, and advocacy and outreach efforts.

While in ICE custody, unaccompanied immigrant minors are held in secure facilities, contract shelters, group homes, or foster care placements under the auspices of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Started in 2000, the Project's Detained Immigrant and Refugee Children's Initiative educates, empowers, and provides legal assistance to the more than 500 unaccompanied children detained for removal proceedings. Additionally, the Integrated Social Services Program was established to address the diverse social service needs of vulnerable clients including the mentally ill, unaccompanied minors, survivors of torture, asylum seekers, domestic violence victims, people with significant medical issues, and parents at immediate risk of losing custody of their children. The Florence Project's targeted efforts are impressive and timely in recognizing both the legal and social services needs of detained immigrants.   

Read more about The Florence Project > >

When the discussion is about unaccompanied minors as the current wave, many have missed the point entirely: that these are kids, like yours and mine, who are making a desperate attempt to save their lives. The heart of this issue is our nation's response to the most vulnerable of any society, those children needing special protection.

Based on a recent Rasmussen poll, 59% of eligible voters think these children should be deported immediately, a likely death sentence in many cases. Those children who survive, for whom the "golden door" is closed, will likely live with an utter loss of hope in America as a moral beacon, based on our fear-driven public policy.  As is common when one group targets another group as an enemy, these children are systematically dehumanized and characterized as hostile invaders: "illegal immigrants,"  "gang members," or even "terrorists." If we avoid seeing these children as human beings - as being like our own children - it is easier to avoid responsibility and to stage protest attacks like we have seen in Murrieta, CA, and Oracle, AZ. And as the federal government scrambles for solutions, states like Connecticut have already closed their doors.

As ideologically driven arguments continue to win the day, the facts are selectively ignored. Data help dispel some prevailing myths about these children:

  • The fastest growing group of children entering the U.S. are 12 and younger;
  • The number of girls entering is increasing rapidly - these are not the stereotypical MS-13 gang members characterized in the media;
  • Most report fleeing violence in their home countries, and are not simply looking for a better job;
  • The U.S. is not the only destination country for migrants from Central America. Between 2008 and 2013, Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama have seen a 712% increase in asylum applications. This problem affects the entire region, not just the U.S.; and
  • According to the UN refugee agency, most children have legitimate claims to asylum in the U.S.

Faced with an unprecedented humanitarian crisis involving the world's most vulnerable, are we going to allow our public policies to be driven only by fear? If so, the world's real terrorists have already won. We can recognize these "huddled masses" as refugees yearning for safety.

In the U.S. and across the world, there is a growing recognition that children are best cared for by families - not by institutions, or in the case of unaccompanied migrant children, detention centers and military bases. This consensus is backed by research showing that children function better in families than in group settings. Leading experts in the field have been calling for these reforms, even before the current situation escalated to crisis levels. For example, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), a faith-based humanitarian organization, states the following:

  • U.S. response must be humanitarian, not enforcement.
  • Unaccompanied children should not be caught up in criminal enforcement at the border.
  • Family, either through reunification or foster care, is the best solution for unaccompanied children.
  • Children are urgently deserving of due process and diligence so that we do not set them up for failure and unsafe situations

Surely these recommendations are in keeping with American ideals. We as a nation have a responsibility to act with fairness and compassion, driven by the high ideals on which our country was founded--with due legal process for all, and in a manner consistent with our national commitment to protecting the vulnerable.

Thomas M. Crea is Associate Professor and Chair of the Global Practice Concentration 

at the Boston College School of Social Work.





Personality and Psychopathology in African Unaccompanied Refugee Minors: Repression, Resilience and Vulnerability

Julia Huemer, Sabine Volkl-Kernstock, Niranjan Karnik, Katherine Denny, Elisabeth Granditsch, Micahela Mitterer, Keith Humphreys, Belinda Plattner, Max Friedrich, Richard Shaw, and Hans Steiner

Child Psychiatry Human Development (2013) 44:39-50

Examining personality and psychopathology symptoms among unaccompanied refugee minors, the findings measure intra-individual dimensions associated with resilience. Unaccompanied refugee minors endorsed high levels of defensiveness, denial of distress, and restraint.  The symptoms reported showed a notable correlation between distress and attention problems, self-destructive and aggressive behavior, and high levels of personality dimensions correlating with resilience.

Read more > >




Daily hassles and coping dispositions as predictors of psychological adjustment: A comparative study of young unaccompanied refugees and youth in the resettlement country

Karoline B. Seglem, Brit Oppedal and Espen Roysamb

International Journal of Behavioral Development, 2014, 38

The authors set out to examine the daily hassles and coping dispositions of unaccompanied refugees and other youth. The results shows distinctions between groups with depressive symptoms and life satisfaction among unaccompanied refugees, ethnic minority, and the majority population of youth in Norway. Findings suggest interventions to promote more effective coping strategies to handle the daily hassles in these youth's lives for improved psychological adjustment for unaccompanied refugees and chances to succeed in the resettlement country.

Read more > >



The Asylum Process and Psychological Need of Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children in Ireland

Desmond Delaney

An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 95, No. 377 (Spring, 2006), pp. 19-27

Social work with unaccompanied minors in Ireland involves a re-evaluation of Western-based theory and knowledge to accommodate cultural differences in diversity.  The identification and response to psychological needs of this client group is important in providing psychosocial support in key preventative programs, in which, minors can be assisted in maintaining their cultural identities and integrating into Irish society. 

Read more > > 



The psychological well-being of unaccompanied minors: A longitudinal study of adolescents immigrating from Russia and Ukraine to Israel without parents.

Eugene Tartakovsky

Journal of Research on Adolescence (Jun 2009), 19.2: 177-204.

The author examines the psychological well-being of high school adolescents immigrating from Russia and Ukraine to Israel without parents. Most migrate legally by participating in various education programs.  During the migration process, general self-esteem, body image, social competence, school competence, and loneliness followed a U curve of decline which then improved over a length of time. This said, the behavioral and emotional problems of the adolescents increased and did not change in subsequent years.  

Read more > >


The "lost boys" of Sudan: Use of health services and functional health outcomes of unaccompanied refugee minors resettled in the U.S.

Paul Geltman, Wanda Grant-Knight, Heidi Ellis and Jeanne M. Landgraf

Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health (Oct 2008): 389-396

To assess whether mental health counseling and other health services were associated with functional health outcomes of unaccompanied Sudanese minors, this descriptive study surveyed 304 Sudanese refugee minors in foster care throughout the U.S. 

Read more > >





Youth Held at the Border: Immigration, Education, and the Politics of Inclusion

Lisa Patel (2012): Teachers College Press

Illegal. Undocumented. Remedial. DREAMers. All of these labels have been applied to immigrant youth. Using a combination of engaging narrative and rigorous analysis, this book explores how immigrant youth are included in, and excluded from, various sectors of American society, including education. Instead of the land of opportunity, immigrant youth often encounter myriad new borders long after their physical journey to the United States is over. Engaging case studies that capture the lived experiences of immigrant youth, from secondary school and beyond, a cohesive analysis of how immigration law, education, and health intertwine to shape possible life pathways, as well as descriptions of educational practices that both support and disempower newcomer immigrant students.


Migrant Youth, Transnational Families, and the State: Care and Contested Interests

Lauren Heidbrink (2014): University of Pennsylvania Press 

Each year, more than half a million migrant children journey from countries around the globe and enter the United States with no lawful immigration status; many of them have no parent or legal guardian to provide care and custody. Yet little is known about their experiences in a nation that may simultaneously shelter children while initiating proceedings to deport them, nor about their safety or well-being if repatriated. Migrant Youth, Transnational Families, and the State examines the draconian immigration policies that detain unaccompanied migrant children and draws on U.S. historical, political, legal, and institutional practices to contextualize the lives of children and youth as they move through federal detention facilities, immigration and family courts, federal foster care programs, and their communities across the United States and Central America.


Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age

Jacqueline Bhabha (2014): Princeton University Press; 1st ed edition 

This book provides the first comprehensive account of the widespread but neglected global phenomenon of child migration. It explores the complex challenges facing children and adolescents who move to join their families, those who are moved to be exploited, and those who move simply to survive. 



The Reuniting Immigrant Families Act (SB 1064)

On September 30, 2012, the State of California enacted the Reuniting Immigrant Families Act (SB 1064). SB 1064 is the nation's first law addressing the reunification barriers faced by many immigrant families involved with the child welfare system. The law clarifies that maintaining children's ties to their families remains the priority despite barriers imposed by immigration status, including immigration detention and deportation. An overview of SB 1064 and individual fact sheets on the five key provisions are provided on their website.

Read more > > 


Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) Parental Interests Directive

In 2013, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a Parental Interests Directive to provide federal guidelines regarding immigration enforcement against parents and legal guardians. The Directive emphasizes that ICE should respect an immigrant parent's rights and responsibilities, and seeks to ensure that "immigration enforcement activities do not unnecessarily disrupt" parental rights. For a resource summarizing the key provisions of the Directive and providing tips to those working within the dependency system on how to best ensure an immigrant parent can meaningfully participate in dependency proceedings, click on the below link.

Read more > >


Immigration Relief for Abused Children

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has recently released several educational resources about Special Immigrant Juvenile status:  

Read more > > regarding Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: Information for Child Welfare Workers. 

Read more > > regarding Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: Information for Juvenile Courts

Children do not need to be in the foster care system to be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile status.  

EDITORS:  V. Corbera, W. Egmont, J. Nomeland, and K. Porter