Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

October 2012Vol. 13, No. 9Unaccompanied Children and the Immigration System

The Vera Institute of Justice recently published a report describing the experiences of unaccompanied children—children who are younger than 18, have no lawful immigration status, and have no parent or legal guardian in the United States. The report provides background on the Federal Government's custodial authority over these children, reviews recent legislation affecting this population, and describes their involvement in immigration proceedings.

In 2005, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) partnered with Vera to develop the Unaccompanied Children Program. Since its inception, the program has provided legal services access to unaccompanied children. Vera's involvement in this project has given the Institute access to a national network of legal services providers who represent this population, as well as quantitative and qualitative data on unaccompanied youth and their experiences navigating the immigration system. Vera analyzed this information and combined it with material collected from a literature review on the subject.

Major findings presented in the research report include the following:


  • Up to 15 percent of unaccompanied children enter the system when they are apprehended within the United States, as opposed to at a port of entry.
  • The majority of children referred to ORR (80 percent) are placed in shelter settings.
  • The average length of time that children remain in ORR custody is 61 days.
  • At least 65 percent of children admitted to ORR custody are ultimately placed with a sponsor who is living in the United States.
  • About 40 percent of children admitted to ORR custody are eligible for a type of legal relief from removal (e.g., asylum or visas for victims of crime or trafficking).
  • Less than 1 percent of children are granted relief from removal during the duration of their stay in ORR custody.

The full report, The Flow of Unaccompanied Children Through the Immigration System: A Resource for Practitioners, Policy Makers, and Researchers, is available on the Vera Institute of Justice website: