More than 30,000 undocumented kids have been released to sponsors in every state


Where unaccompanied children have been released, by state. (The Washington Post)

More than 30,000 unaccompanied child migrants have been released to sponsors in each state this year, according to federal data.

A recent spike in the number of undocumented child migrants — which federal officials describe as “unprecedented” — has forced more than half of the nation’s governors to weigh in on the issue, with some offering to help the federal government locate temporary shelters for the children, but many viewing it as an opportunity to chastise the administration for what they consider to be flawed border policies.

As depicted in the map above, huge numbers of children have been placed with sponsors, who take care of the minors while their immigration cases are processed. More than 1,000 children were released in each of 10 states. Texas was home to the most released children this year at 4,280. New York, Florida and California, each has received more than 3,000 released children. Nine states have received ten or fewer children. Vermont, which is looking for facilities that can temporarily house groups of children for the federal government, received just three, second only to Montana’s single released child. The children receive vaccinations and medical screenings before they are released to their sponsors, who are often relatives, and sponsors receive background checks.

“That’s why my mother sent me here. They rape girls and get them pregnant.”

One 12-year-old Honduran girl told the UN

A number of governors have complained of the administration’s lack of formal notification when such placements are made. In letters to the head of the Health and Human Services Department this month, Governors Dave Heineman (R-Neb.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) separately complained of the lack of formal notification on the placement of such children within their borders. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) penned an angry letter to President Obama complained that “Like many Governors, my office must monitor rumors about the transport and housing of illegal immigrants because your administration apparently prefers to conduct these acts under cloak of secrecy.”

Maine, Gov. Paul LePage (R) says he only found out  Tuesday that his state is home to eight released children, a revelation that prompted him to issue a statement criticizing the administration for failing to communicate that information sooner and demanding that President Obama “not look to Maine to harbor illegal immigrants.”

“The President has failed to enforce our border laws, LePage said in a statement. “Now states like Texas are facing a crisis. The failure of Congress and the President to address our border issues should not result in more of a financial burden on Maine people. We cannot become a state that encourages illegal immigration. We simply cannot afford it.”

The nation has seen a particularly large spike this year in the number of what the federal government calls unaccompanied alien children. From 2003 to 2011, the federal government processed an annual average between 7,000 and 8,000 placements for such children a year. That number has been climbing in recent years, though, from 13,625 in the 2012 fiscal year to 24,668. This year, the Health and Human Services Department expects to receive 60,000 such referrals. The spike through May was concentrated largely around the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Rio Grande sector, according to the Pew Research Center.


Where unaccompanied alien children come in. (Pew Research Center)

The vast majority of children this year came from just three Central American countries. Guatemala is the top source for unaccompanied children, with 37 percent of the group hailing from that nation. Thirty percent are from Honduras and 26 percent are from El Salvador. That breakdown is typical of a given year, according to HHS.

The number of Honduran children apprehended at the border has grown more than tenfold from 2009 through the first half of this year, according to Pew. The number from Guatemala grew more than ninefold and the number from El Salvador grew more than sevenfold.


How unaccompanied alien children patterns have changed. (Pew Research Center)

The three cities that sent the most unaccompanied children to the U.S. through mid-May were all in Honduras, the Pew Research Center reported earlier this month noting that the children come from some of the most violent places in each country. (Honduras is the world’s murder capital.)


Where unaccompanied alien children come from. (Pew Research Center)

The majority of the children are male. Boys accounted for 77 percent of the UAC group in the 2012 fiscal year and 73 percent the following year.  While boys still make up a sizable majority of the group, the number of unaccompanied girls crossing the border has spiked 77 percent, according to a Pew analysis of government data. Girls from the countries have reported cultures of rape and other forms of sexual violence to the United Nations. One 12-year-old girl who fled Honduras described the following, which was published in a UN Refugee Agency report this month:

In the village where I lived there were a ton of gang members. All they did was bad things, kidnapping people. My mother and grandmother were afraid that something would happen to me. That’s why my mother sent me here. They rape girls and get them pregnant. The gang got five girls pregnant, and there were other girls who disappeared and their families never heard from them again.

Spike in unaccompanied children by gender. (Pew Research Center)
Spike in unaccompanied children by gender. (Pew Research Center)
Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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