Immigration is a flashpoint for controversy across the country. President Trump’s wall to stop immigrants at the Mexican border is one example.
In Colorado, the numbers show the issue is not going away any time soon. In one year, the state saw a 125% increase in immigrant children released to relatives.
In fiscal year 2019, sponsors in Colorado took in more than 700 unaccompanied immigrant children. In Arapahoe County, the number skyrocketed from 2018 to 2019, from 62 to 170 children. In other leading counties the numbers were comparably high: Denver (94), Weld (75), El Paso (70) and Adams (55).
An “unaccompanied alien child” is someone younger than 18. These children present themselves at a port of entry or get detained without a parent who can prove custody.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement houses the children. Caseworkers have the task of reuniting the child with an adult who will care for them. In Colorado, sponsors can include relatives and family friends.
The children and their families often see the United States as a haven from the horrors they face in the country they came from. Drug gangs recruit young boys under the threat of violence to them and their families. Young girls serve as sex partners for gang members.
Even so, arrival in the U.S. does not guarantee a free and happy life. These rising numbers of immigrant children strain both government and nonprofit community resources.
Advocates say fewer volunteers are willing to assist with the children. Government policies are scaring them off. Sponsors must submit to fingerprinting, for example. Some volunteers get caught up in immigration raids.
Immigrant children rely on a broken immigrant system. Toddlers often navigate the legal process alone and without representation. Some end up in long-term foster care or face deportation to their home countries. Still, these children all have rights, even if they do not understand them.