Distinguishing Unaccompanied Children from Children in Family Units

Starting in FY 2018, counts in TRAC's Immigration Court "juvenile cases" tool include all juveniles, and do not distinguish between children who arrive unaccompanied and those who arrive as part of a family unit[1]. This change was made because it is no longer possible to reliably distinguish these two separate groups in the court's records.

This is due to a change in what the Court now tracks and flags as a UAC case. Under the Court's much more restrictive definition, only a small subset of children arriving unaccompanied are classified as UAC cases from the court's perspective. Apparently, to now be tagged as a UAC case, the child must be in the "care and custody [of] the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)" and also must not "have a sponsor identified."[2]

As a result, this year despite a pronounced increase in unaccompanied children arriving at the border, court records show a sharp drop in UAC cases entering its workload. As of the end of May 2018, for example, according to case-by-case court records, it tagged only 7,956 unaccompanied children's cases as received during the first eight months of this fiscal year (Oct 2017 - May 2018). This is perhaps only a quarter of unaccompanied children apprehended by Custom and Border Protection (CBP)[3].

This number, however, compares more closely with the number of migrant children reported as housed by HHS 's Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) as of the end of May 2018. ORR's number was nearly 11,000 children being housed, up 20 percent over the previous month[4]. EOIR's number may be lower than ORR's because of the lag between ORR's receipt of a child and when DHS files the Notice to Appear with the Immigration Court. In addition, while ORR now houses children who arrived as part of a family unit but were separated from their parents, it is unclear whether EOIR flags these as UAC cases.


[1] The court's classification of a case as "UAC" used to be designed to record the fact that they were assigned priority in scheduling hearings. Once tagged with that status on the NTA, their tag in the court records was not removed even when the child was placed with a family member by HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). In addition, those arriving as part of a family unit were also treated as a priority, and were assigned a separate and distinguishable priority tag providing a double check on the accuracy of the court's recording systems.

[2] See EOIR's January 31, 2017 directive on "Case Processing Priorities."

[3] CBP reports that for the same period (Oct 2017 - May 2018) it had apprehended 38,691 unaccompanied children - an increase from the past several years. While only a portion of children from Mexico may pass credible fear screening and be referred to Immigration Court, three out of four of these were from Central American countries who all must receive such a referral. See: https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/sw-border-migration.

[3] See June 6, 2018 New York Times article at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/border- arrests-exceed-50000-for-third-month-in-a-row/2018/06/06/db6f15a6-680b-11e8-bea7- c8eb28bc52b1_story.html?utm_term=.9ad04ec26c1d.

Additional TRAC Immigration Enforcement Data and Tools

To access additional data using other TRAC immigration enforcement tools, go to this directory of data tools.