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Hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied children and youth from around the world have arrived in the United States over the past decade seeking protection from violence, persecution, war, and insecurity. Yet, their reception into the country has often led them into an immigration system characterized by systematic criminalization, a lack of transparency, and separation from their families. The reception system for children arriving to the United States needs to be reformed to demonstrate respect for their basic human dignity. In interviews and group discussions, Vera engaged with 32 young adults who were detained as unaccompanied minors by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). They shared their stories about navigating the complex U.S. immigration system. Drawing from their lived experience and expertise, they developed 10 proposals to reform the reception system for unaccompanied children and youth in a way that centers their freedom, safety, and family unity.
In the first five months of 2021, about 65,000 children were apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after arriving in the United States unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian. These children come to the United States seeking protection, stability, and a chance to reunite with their families, but are instead processed at federally run stations and incarcerated in jail-like conditions with often freezing temperatures, inadequate food and water, limited access to showers and hygiene products, and no access to private toilets, sinks, or beds.Rather than incarcerating unaccompanied children in such awful conditions, there is another way: to urge the federal government to respond to their arrival with compassion, not confinement, and to work as quickly as possible to reunify them with family and kin in the United States. This brief provides concrete recommendations to states and localities to intervene and use their authority toward this goal.