Thousands of children come into the United States each year as unaccompanied minors, often undocumented and seeking asylum or other status that may permit them to stay in the United States. When these children are apprehended at the border, they are taken into the custody of a federal agency known as the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Once the minors are in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, they are often released to sponsors in the United States while immigration proceedings are pending. The sponsors are usually related to the unaccompanied minors, although they do not have to be immediate family members, such as parents.
Before the minors can be released to sponsors, the sponsors have to undergo background checks and register with the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Under the law, in order for a person to qualify as a sponsor, he or she does not have to be in the country legally. Therefore a parent can act as a sponsor to an unaccompanied minor even if the parent is undocumented. Interviews of potential sponsors are also conducted to ensure that they are suitable to care for the unaccompanied minors.
When unaccompanied minors are released to sponsors, they can go to school like other children in their community. Public schools provide educational services to children without considering their immigration status.
There is always the risk that an unaccompanied minor may be deported back to the country he or she fled. However, if the minor satisfies the criteria for asylum or refugee status, he or she can stay in the United States and receive additional benefits. The status of the sponsor does not generally affect the minor’s ability receive asylum or other legal status in the United States.
In the past, the parents or other relatives stepping forward to act as sponsors did not have to worry about being targeted for deportation. Unfortunately, parents and other relatives of unaccompanied minors are worried about the effects of coming forward to act as sponsors for their children under the current administration. Media reports have indicated that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials plan to arrest and deport undocumented parents and relatives who step up to act as sponsors for their children. This is supposed to discourage unaccompanied minors from coming to the United States, which in turn may discourage their parents from staying if they are already in the country.
If unaccompanied minors cannot find sponsors who are related to the children, they may have to be placed in government run facilitated or group homes. In some cases, the minors may be placed in foster homes until the immigration hearings are held.
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If a parent of an unaccompanied minor has a way to gain legal status in the United States, he or she should pursue this before applying to act as a sponsor. If you would like to be the sponsor for an unaccompanied minor but are worried about the effect this would have on your own immigration status, contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP.