Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project
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How can a child get out of immigration detention?

Who Can Release Children?

The agency that holds children, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Division of Unaccompanied Children (ORR-DUCS) is the agency that decides whether children can be released or whether they have to stay in custody.  This is different from the adult immigration detention system.  In the adult immigration system, ICE and an Immigration Judge have the power to release someone. 

The staff of ORR-DUCS who make the release decision are not just one individual, but a team of social workers and case managers who evaluate the release application submitted by children’s families.

What is the Process of Asking for Release?

Once a child is caught by immigration, immigration has 48 hours to deliver the child to an ORR-DUCS shelter.  Once the child is at the shelter, the shelter staff will work with the child to learn the contact information of relatives, and they will begin contacting the relatives.  Once the relatives have been contacted by the shelter, the shelter and the relatives will work together to figure out who would be the most appropriate person in the family to apply for the child’s release.  Then the shelter workers will provide the family members with all the application materials to be completed in order for the family to ask for the child to be released to them.

Who Can Apply to Have a Child Released?

  • A child’s parents – even if they are undocumented
  • A child’s legal guardian
  • A child’s adult relative (brother, sister aunt, uncle, or grandparents)
  • A family friend designated by the parent
  • A licensed program
  • An adult or entity seeking custody, in ORR’s discretion, when family reunification is not possible.


What Application Materials Are Required?

The shelter staff will send a complete information packet with all the forms that they need to a person interested in applying to get a child released from immigration detention into the person’s care.  Generally, the application includes:

  • A copy of the child’s birth certificate.
  • An application that records who all the adults in the applicants’ household are.
  • An application that tests whether the family is making enough money to absorb the care of a released child (called an “I-134” application).
  • If the applicants are not the child’s parent/s, then it will be necessary to get a letter from the parents giving the applicant permission to take the child into her or his care.  Is this waived for cases where there is alleged abuse by parents???
  • A criminal and immigration background report, got through taking the fingerprints of the person applying, either electronically or on paper.

For the Los Angeles area, Catholic Charities is the only agency that provides the service to applicants to get their fingerprints taken electronically to speed up the application process.  To make an appointment to have your fingerprints taken electronically to support an application to get a child out of detention, call Catholic Charities, at (213) 251-3411. 

What Does ORR-DUCS Consider When Deciding to Release / Not Release?

  • The safety of the child if released to the applicant (no child will be released to an applicant with prior convictions for child abuse and other crimes).
  • The closeness of the relative to whom the child will be released.
  • The income of the family, and whether they can afford to care for the child.

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