The number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC, unaccompanied children) apprehended at the Southwest border between U.S. ports of entry while attempting to enter the United States without authorization has increased substantially in the past decade. UAC apprehensions, which numbered 16,067 in FY2011, reached what was a record of 68,541 in FY2014. Since then, they have fluctuated considerably, reaching a then new record of 76,020 in FY2019, before declining to 30,557 in FY2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first 10 months of FY2021, UAC apprehensions reached an all-time peak of 112,192. UAC are children under age 18 who lack both lawful immigration status in the United States, and a parent or legal guardian in the United States, or a parent or legal guardian in the United States who is available to provide care and physical custody.
U.S. policy on UAC treatment and processing is guided by the Flores Settlement Agreement of 1997, the Homeland Security Act of 2002, and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008. Children from the Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, now dominate what in prior years was largely a Mexican migrant flow. The TVPRA requires differential treatment of Mexican children, who can be voluntarily returned to Mexico, compared to that for children from all other countries, who are sheltered in the United States and put into formal removal proceedings in immigration courts. This origin-country compositional shift has affected federal spending and the federal agencies responsible for unaccompanied children. Purchase on Amazon