The federal government has made notable progress since March in getting unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border out of Border Patrol facilities and into Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody, and releasing them to parents or other sponsors. The number of children at Border Patrol facilities has been sharply reduced. But at this writing, more than 18,000 children remained in ORR custody and there are serious concerns about standards of care and conditions in some ORR facilities set up this spring.

The program for unaccompanied children has changed in a fundamental way with the addition of emergency intake sites. Most children in custody are now in these sites, which are not state licensed, have reduced staffing requirements and reduced services, and in some cases have serious deficiencies in their operations. Despite efforts to expand regular ORR licensed capacity, the number of children in state-licensed beds is no higher than now than in January. There is an urgent need for ORR to improve conditions in emergency intake sites, shift to licensed care with the full set of services as rapidly as is practicable, ensure that releases of children to parents and other sponsors are expedited and with appropriate safeguards, and strengthen post-release supports for children.

Unaccompanied children apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are required to be turned over to ORR within 72 hours absent exceptional circumstances. They are sent to ORR-funded shelters and other facilities that must be state licensed and meet additional ORR requirements. The agency seeks to release children to parents or other adults after a vetting process intended to minimize risks of releases to traffickers or into other abusive settings.

Read the full article about unaccompanied children by Mark Greenberg at Migration Policy Institute.