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Halfway Home: Unaccompanied Children in Immigration Custody

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Women's Refugee Commission

This landmark study examines living conditions for unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings without a parent or guardian. It provides an overview of what life is like for children in the custody of the Division of Unaccompanied Children’s Services (DUCS), Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Findings: The DUCS, as a programme run through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is more appropriate than Border Patrol/ICE for unaccompanied minors in immigration proceedings. The Immigration and Naturalization Service – Department of Homeland Security (INS -DHS) changeover provided a needed separation of care (DUCS), and prosecution (DHS). DHS still is the “gatekeeper” that decides when children will be transferred to DUCS care. The set of recommendations in this report calls for: (i) assuring adherence to TVPRA (William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act), especially with regard to determining age and screening for possible human trafficking victims; (ii) collecting information in a more consistent way and honoring confidentiality (DUCS not to share classified files with DHS); (iii) more autonomy for HHS/DUCS to exercise their role as legal custodian of the unaccompanied children; (iv) finalising the Joint Operations Manual as to the distinct roles of different agencies and increase transparency; (v) providing a plan for young adults between 18-21 years old; (vi) providing adequate funding for DUCS; and (vii) improving DHS oversight.

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