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Afghan Unaccompanied Minors Taken into U.S. Government Custody

As the humanitarian crisis worsens in Afghanistan, the U.S. is expecting to see an increase in the number of unaccompanied minors evacuated from the country.

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    Evacuations in Afghanistan

    Since the Biden Administration announced the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by August 31st, 2021, the U.S. has been busy evacuating Afghan and foreign nationals who aided the U.S. military during its 20-year occupation. Since August 14th, 2021, the U.S. has airlifted around 105,000 U.S. citizens, Afghans, and foreign nationals out of the country.

    After passing inspection in another country, Afghan refugee adults and families are now being temporarily housed at four military sites in Virginia, New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Texas. Amongst those evacuated include a growing number of children who left the country without an adult guardian or family member.

    Afghan children playing

    Unaccompanied Minors

    As of Thursday, August 26th, 2021, 34 Afghan children (minors under the age of 18) have been taken into U.S. government custody after their evacuation from Afghanistan. The children, who are mostly older teenagers, arrived at Kabul airport without an accompanying parent or legal guardian.

    Some children were reunited with close family members after evacuation but 24 minors still remain unaccompanied and subsequently placed in government shelters for Afghan children.

    parent and child hands

    What is Next for Unaccompanied Children?

    If a minor under the age of 18 years old left Afghanistan without a parent or legal guardian, then they are classified as an ‘unaccompanied minor’ even if they arrived for evacuation at the Kabul airport with an older family member. As it stands now, a majority of unaccompanied children do not have parents in the United States to be reunited with. In some cases, their parents are already deceased.

    Those children who are without any family members in the United States will be placed into the custody of the Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement, which will house them until they find suitable sponsors for the children or until the minors turn 18 years old.

    As the children have experienced a traumatic event, the HHS is working to recruit more Afghan foster families to its network in order to help ease the transition to the United States for these children.

    Currently, there are only a few unaccompanied children who have been evacuated to the United States as refugees. However, that number is expected to increase as more evacuees arrive in the United States after their visa processing has finished.

    Despite entering the United States legally, unaccompanied Afghan children do not have a permanent legal status yet as they enter the country through “humanitarian parole”. Humanitarian parole allows the government to admit immigrants into the U.S. without visas where they can stay temporarily but without permanent residency.

    If a child is reunited with their parents, they could gain U.S. residency through family-based green card petitions if their parent was the recipient of a visa (Ex. a Special Immigrant Visa awarded to those Afghans who helped the U.S. government or military). However, if they remain without family in the U.S., they may need to seek other immigration routes to stay in the United States such as applying for asylum.

    At present, there are nearly 15,000 unaccompanied children in the care of the HHS refugee office. Most of these minors come from Central America and entered the U.S. through the southern border with Mexico. However, it is estimated that around 80% of these minors from Central America have family members in the U.S. with whom they can be reunited. Afghan children however are less likely to have family members in the U.S. making it difficult for them to be placed with a family and out of government custody.

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