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Unaccompanied Immigrant Children

The definition of “Unaccompanied Alien Children” (UAC) in the United States is: children who cross our borders and (1) have no lawful immigration status in the United States, (2) have not attained 18 years of age, and (3) have no parent or legal guardian in the United States or no parent or legal guardian in the United States who is available to provide for their care and physical custody. 

Children arrive in the United States unaccompanied for many reasons, such as violence in their home countries, a lack of educational and economic opportunities, poverty, and/or the desire to reconnect with family members who are already in the United States. Once the unaccompanied child arrives in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security is generally required to give custody of the child to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).


  • Learn about who unaccompanied children are and what leads to their need to come to the U.S. in this UAC Backgrounder.
  • Learn about the history and consequences of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), which mandates information-sharing between organizations about the children in ORR’s care.

Take Action:

  • For lawyers: consider doing pro bono work for unaccompanied children through the American Bar Association’s Working Group on Unaccompanied Minor Immigrants. Their mission is “to develop and implement an immediate response to the critical need for pro bono representation of children in removal proceedings.”