Originally Published in Time
Jasmine Aguilera - March 19, 2021
Jay and Leslie, a couple who live in the Philadelphia area, have so far fostered four children this year, three boys and one girl, all of them migrants who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border recently without their parents. The children are among the thousands who have showed up at the border since January fleeing violence, poverty or natural disaster in their home countries, hoping to reunite with loved ones in the U.S.
The uptick of unaccompanied children presenting themselves at the border has proven a challenge not only for the Biden Administration, but also for the dozens of nonprofit organizations that manage the transfer of children from the border and into temporary foster care until the child can be reunited with a vetted sponsor in the U.S. Even though influxes of unaccompanied children arriving at the border is not a new phenomena, for most of 2020, the Trump Administration did not permit them to enter the U.S., a policy that led many of the nonprofit organizations running programs to foster these children to either cut staff or the number of beds available to shelter children. COVID-19 also led to further restrictions, including cutting bed space to allow for social distancing. Now as thousands of children—a mix of newly arrived ones and some who were turned away in 2020—present themselves to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), agencies are scrambling to meet the need.
“We saw a dramatic reduction of children [in 2020]. That does not mean that the number of children at the border weren’t still there, they just weren’t being allowed entry into the United States,” says Dona Abbott, senior advisor on global refugee and immigrant services at Bethany Christian Services, one of the nonprofit organizations running transitional foster care programs for unaccompanied migrant children. Through organizations like Bethany, children are placed in foster care temporarily until their sponsor, typically a family member, in the U.S. is located and their identity and relationship to the child is verified. (Government officials say about 90% of all unaccompanied minors are able to reunite with a sponsor in the U.S.)
Hundreds of foster families have taken on the short-term care of migrant children through organizations like Bethany, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops(USCCB), two other faith-based organization that assists with placing migrant children in temporary foster care. All three organizations however, are trying to work as quickly as possible to hire qualified staff and get more foster families certified to take in migrant children to try to meet the current need.