U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has sent Afghan children evacuees without adult family members to the government shelters.
The HHS said that at least 34 Afghan children evacuated from Afghanistan to the United States had been designated as unaccompanied minors, and the U.S. immigration authorities have sent some of them to HHS-overseen shelters as undocumented migrant youth, CBS News reported on Friday, Aug. 27.
HHS officials said some of the Afghan unaccompanied minors were subsequently reunited with their families who had also been evacuated to the U.S. However, some others traveled with non-parental adult family members, rendering them “unaccompanied alien children” under U.S. law.
Other children evacuated to American soil without family members remain in HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement custody until authorities find suitable sponsors or the minors turn 18.
HHS said that the unaccompanied children do not represent a “significant share of Afghan arrivals.”
President Joe Biden told ABC News last week that his administration wants to get 50,000-65,000 Afghan civilians and their families out of Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
As the administration makes more efforts to evacuate and resettle the Afghan refugees, the number of unaccompanied children from Afghanistan will likely increase.
CBS cited two sources saying that U.S. refugee agency officials have told shelter operators to prepare for the arrival of more unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the refugee resettlement agency Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said that if the unaccompanied Afghan children do not have family members in the United States, they should be placed in long-term foster care programs rather than large shelters.
Afghan children designated as unaccompanied minors do not yet have permanent legal status because they enter the United States through “humanitarian parole,” an immigration tool that allows the government to admit immigrants who do not have visas. Parole will enable beneficiaries to stay in the United States temporarily, but it does not provide them permanent residency.
According to CBS, those unaccompanied Afghan minors who can reunite with their parents could gain U.S. residency through their family’s petitions for specific immigration programs, like Special Immigrant Visas. But those who do not have family in the United States will need to seek other immigration avenues like asylum to remain in the country.