Q. What is happening with immigrant children separated from their parents? A. In April 2018, the Trump administration announced a zero tolerance policy for those crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization and began charging them with “improper entry,” a misdemeanor. In criminally prosecuting these individuals, the Trump administration has separated more than 2,000 children from their parents. Parents are taken into criminal custody and/or detained for the duration of their immigration proceedings, while children are placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which contracts with shelters around the country, including in NY. Where children will be placed (sponsor, foster care, shelter, “family detention” centers, etc.) continues to evolve. On June 26th, a federal judge ordered the government to stop separating families at the border and reunite separated children with their parents within 14-30 days depending on the child’s age. Outcomes for these families continue to change as the administration changes policy on family separation.
Q. Is this new? A. Yes, the systematic separation of children from their parents at the border is new. However, unaccompanied minors (children who enter the country without a family member and are often teenagers) have long been placed in ORR custody and then released to shelters, sponsors, or foster families.
Q. Which children need sponsors? Who can be a sponsor? A. Both children separated from their parents and unaccompanied minors are placed in ORR custody. Separated children are distinct from unaccompanied minors because they have become “unaccompanied” due to actions taken by the Trump administration, but both need sponsors to be released from ORR custody. Rules for who can be a sponsor are established by the Flores Settlement. The first preference is that a child be placed with a parent. If a parent is unavailable, ORR will seek to place the child with other blood or legal relatives. If this is not possible, ORR will place the child with non-related adult family members. ORR will only release the child to someone who has a documented relationship with them prior to their arrival. This protects the child and prevents additional family separation or prolonged detention. ORR interviews, fingerprints, and conducts background checks of prospective sponsors. Once a child is placed, ORR is no longer responsible for the child’s custody/care. Rather, it is the sponsor’s responsibility to ensure that the child attends their immigration court hearings and complies with court orders.
Q. Can I be a sponsor? A. Under the Flores Settlement, ORR must make every effort to reunite children with a parent or family member. If you are the family member of a child you believe has entered the country unaccompanied or has been separated from their parent, you may call the ORR’s hotline to locate the child: 1-800-203-7001. **Note: ORR is now sharing sponsor information with ICE. It is a good idea to consult with an attorney before calling ORR to start the sponsorship placement process. For additional help locating a child who has been separated from their parent, email the Vera Institute’s Family Connect Service at email@example.com. You will need to provide the child’s name, date of birth, gender, nationality, best language, and A# (if you have it), as well as the names of their parents and ideally the parents’ A#s. You can also contact the RAICES “National Families Together Hotline”: 866-378-2667.
Q. Can I become a foster parent to separated or unaccompanied children? A. Potentially. If there is no sponsor available, ORR contracts with some organizations to provide short or long-term foster care to a small number of separated or unaccompanied minors. Potential foster parents must be licensed, attend training, and preferably speak the child’s first language. For more information about fostering in NYC, contact the Cayuga Center: 315-253-5383. For fostering opportunities outside NYC, contact Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS): 410-230-2700 or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: 202-541-3000.
Q. How else can I help? A. There are many opportunities for attorneys to take on cases pro bono and non-legal volunteer needs. Volunteer inquiries and offers for donations can be made to Catholic Charities of New York ImmigrationVolunteers@archny.org, the Safe Passage Project at www.safepassageproject.org/help or Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) 202-824-8680.