The Border Is Everywhere: Proactive Tips for Care of Immigrant Kids

Laurie Scudder, DNP, PNP


May 31, 2019

Processing Kids at the Border

What should happen if a minor child, with or without an adult caregiver, is apprehended at the border?

Step one: The child and accompanying adults are placed in a (DHS) detention center. Initial screening will determine whether the child is younger than 18 years and unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Children meeting those criteria are designated as unaccompanied minors, placed in a shelter within 72 hours, and seen by a healthcare professional within 24 hours—although as the examples of the two children who died in CBP custody demonstrate, this does not always happen.

Step two is to determine whether the child has a potential sponsor in the United States. Categories of potential sponsors are:

  • Category 1: parent or legal guardian (this includes a qualifying step-parent who has legal or joint custody of the child or teenager)

  • Category 2: immediate relative (sibling, aunt/uncle, grandparent, first cousin; these individuals may be biological relatives, relatives through marriage, or half-siblings)

  • Category 3: other sponsors (distant relative, unrelated adult)

  • Category 4: no sponsor

Step three is to either release the child to a sponsor or to house the child in a DHS facility. Although most children are released to a sponsor, there are a number of roadblocks that this potential sponsor must overcome. The DHS initially required that everyone in the household who would be a part of the child's sponsor family be fingerprinted, which discouraged participation. Although that requirement has since been rescinded, the administration's proposed public charge rule change, currently being challenged in court, has potentially limited sponsors from coming forward. That rule change, should it be implemented, would allow the government to deny admission to immigrants based on the potential for that individual to require public benefits such as Medicaid, housing subsidies, or food assistance in the United States. And that process, despite a court challenge, appears to be already negatively affecting immigrants, as advocates report that consular officers are denying visas even when applicants fulfill legal requirements to prove that they will be financially independent.