FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 27, 2023
Contact: Tim Young | email@example.com | 443-257-6310
Washington D.C. – Nearly 120,000 unaccompanied migrant children entered the U.S. government’s shelter system in Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, according to Congressional testimony from Robin Dunn Marcos, Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The agency received 118,798 referrals from federal entities between Oct 1, 2022 and Sept 30, 2023. While arrivals of children traveling without a parent or legal guardian remain historically high, the figure represents a slight decrease from FY 2021 and FY 2022 which saw 122,731 and 128,904 referrals, respectively.
Under law, ORR is charged with housing unaccompanied children who lack a legal immigration status until they turn 18 or can be released to a sponsor, who is typically a parent or another close relative living in the U.S. According to the testimony, more than 85% of children were placed with a parent, legal guardian, or other close family member in FY 2022 and FY 2023.
For 40 years, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has worked alongside the federal government to provide appropriate services for unaccompanied children, identify unique vulnerabilities to exploitation, and to protect their best interests. The organization delivered expert testimony to Congress earlier this year, stressing the need for more robust protections, additional resources for post-release services, and access to legal representation.
Heeding the call of LIRS and its partners, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced new legislation this week to provide a comprehensive framework to reform the federal government’s care and custody of unaccompanied children. The Protecting Unaccompanied Children Act would improve existing safeguards for the release of children from government custody, increase their access to social services and legal protections, and create new safeguards and services for children’s safety.
The following is a statement by Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service:
“These historically high figures highlight the ongoing deterioration of humanitarian conditions across the world, and particularly in South and Central America. Unaccompanied children are among the most vulnerable populations, often having fled unthinkable violence, persecution, and forcible gang recruitment. When they arrive in the U.S, they have limited support and significant difficulty accessing services in their communities as a result of language and cultural barriers, as well as unfamiliarity with U.S laws designed to protect children.”
“Recent headlines on child labor exploitation serve as a stark reminder that we must continually improve sponsor vetting and family reunification practices so that incidents of trafficking or other harm are more readily prevented, identified, and mitigated. We are deeply grateful to Senator Durbin and his colleagues for their introduction of the Protecting Unaccompanied Children Act, and their commitment to ensuring the health and well-being of vulnerable children.”
“Now more than ever, Congress must commit to expanding ORR’s permanent licensed bed capacity so that children are cared for by qualified staff and foster parents in family-centric environments instead of large-scale influx care facilities. We also need robust government-supported legal and post-release services so that, after so much hardship and adversity, children can be children again.”