Unaccompanied Minor (UAC)unaccompanied minor

Unaccompanied minor – Immigrant children seek refuge in the United States for a variety of reasons: to escape gang violence, to escape abuse, through illegal sex trafficking, or to be reunited with their family. In recent years, the number of unaccompanied minor children who migrate to the United States has accelerated rapidly.

What is an Unaccompanied Minor (UAC)?

An unaccompanied minor (UAC) is defined as a child who:

  • Has no immigration status in the United States;
  • Is under the age of 18;
  • Has no legal parent or guardian in the U.S.; or
  • No legal parent or guardian in the U.S. who is available to provide care and custody.

What Happens When a Child is Detained at the Border?

If a child is apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the border, a determination must be made as to whether the child is a unaccompanied minor. If the child is determined to be a UAC, then they can be provided with consular assistance or possible resettlement and integration in a third country. Before any decisions are made on these items, the best interests of the child are considered. Factors considered are:

  • The duration of legal or other obstacles to a child’s return to her or his home country;
  • The child’s age, sex/gender, emotional state, educational and family background;
  • The child’s right to preserve her or his identity, including nationality and name;
  • The continuity in a child’s upbringing and care, including with regard to the child’s ethnic, religious, cultural, and linguistic background;
  • The right of the child to preserve her or his family relations and related short, mid- and long-term possibilities of family reunification either in the home, host, or resettlement country

What Happens if a Child is Not Determined to be a UAC?

Under the current administration’s immigration policies, there is an effort to limit the number of youths who are classified as UACs when they are apprehended. Because of this, children are being subject to expedited removal proceedings and in some cases, they do not have the option of appearing in front of an immigration judge to defend against their removability from the United States. This could also result in more children being detained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security instead of allowing them to be transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where they would be placed in less restrictive settings.

Do Children Who Have no Immigration Status Have Options to Defend Their Removal?

UACs may have some defenses against their removability, including but not limited to: Asylum, SIJ Status, or a special visa for being a victim of trafficking or other crimes. It is important to consult with an immigration lawyer to determine if there are any options for removal defenses.

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