While we often hear stories about undocumented adult immigrants in the United States, the stories of what happens to children who come to this country on their own often go unheard. Nevertheless, there are actually a large number of young children attempting to enter the United States by themselves every year.
According to the Border Patrol, one out of every 13 people who was taken into custody last year was a minor, under 18 years of age. In addition, the Border Patrol reported that 17 percent of those children were less than 14 years old.
Experts suggest that the large number of children coming to the United States is due in large part to drug cartel violence in Central America. An increase has particularly been seen among children coming from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Just last year, practically 14,000 children were taken into federal custody after attempting to cross the border – two times the number who were brought into custody just the year before.
Tragically, while many of these children have reasons to enter the country that would qualify them to stay, a very small number are actually granted legal status. From 2007 to 2009, just 7 percent of the children in custody were granted status, while others faced immigration court and deportation. Despite these poor statistics, around 40 percent of these children who enter the U.S. on their own should qualify for status, based on data from a study conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice.
While a small number of children are currently winning their cases, experts indicate that obtaining legal representation greatly increases the chances for these children who enter the country alone. In fact, studies have shown individuals who obtain an attorney are almost nine times more likely to be granted status to stay in the country.
Source: The New York Times, “Child Migrants, Alone in Court,” Sonia Nazario, April 10, 2013.