How to release a minor from immigration detention?

In this week's Consulta Migratoria® column I answer a question from a reader who wants to know the process for locating and claiming her minor daughter who is detained by immigration authorities in the United States.

Each case is different and the answers vary depending on the immigration history of each person. Here I provide general answers to your questions. Please consult with an immigration attorney to receive personalized legal advice before beginning any process.

This is the column:

I am Honduran and have lived undocumented in the United States for the past 11 years. Four days ago, my 14 year old daughter was apprehended by immigration when she was trying to enter the country illegally. A border patrol agent called me to tell me that my daughter was in their custody and that I would be contacted again in the future to begin the process of reclaiming my daughter. It has been several days and I have not heard from the government. How can I find my daughter and reunify with her? -Silvia M.

Silvia, I am very sorry that your daughter is in detention. To be reunited with your daughter you will need patience, perseverance and proper legal counsel.

The federal government recently initiated the operation of a toll-free hotline for parents trying to locate their children inside their shelters.

The hotline number for parents is 1-800-203-7001 and operates 7 days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time (6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Western Time). Call this number and have your daughter's information available, including her legal name, date and place of birth, and the border point in the United States where she entered. You can find more information about the hotline by clicking here.

Several government offices are responsible for the detention, processing, care and repatriation of unaccompanied alien children (UAC). The federal government classifies a child as an unaccompanied minor when they are undocumented and under the age of 18, do not have a parent or legal guardian within the U.S., or their parent or legal guardian is not available to care for them at the time of their detention.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for the detention and processing of these children at the border. When apprehending an unaccompanied minor, CBP interviews them to determine their identity, origin, and reason for coming to the U.S., among other things. They also take their photo and fingerprints and notify consular authorities that they have an unaccompanied minor in their custody.

Unless the unaccompanied minor wishes to voluntarily return to his or her home country, CBP transfers the child to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE, in turn, passes the children to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

The handover process from CBP and ICE to ORR generally must take place within 72 hours after the child has been detained.

ORR is responsible for caring for children and facilitating their reunification with their parents, next of kin, or other person or entity qualified to care for the unaccompanied minor. Reunification must occur quickly and the child must be placed in the best possible environment.

ORR also assesses these children to determine whether they have been victims of human trafficking, whether there is credible evidence that the unaccompanied minor is at risk if returned to his or her country of origin or residence, and whether he or she is eligible to apply for asylum.

ORR is also responsible for housing unaccompanied minors in its shelters or placing them in foster care, and reunifies the child with a family member in the U.S., if possible.

The order of priority of potential sponsors of an unaccompanied minor is as follows:

1. Parents

Legal guardian

3. An adult relative

4. An adult or institution designated by the parents or legal guardian of the unaccompanied minor.

5. An authorized organization that can accept legal custody of an unaccompanied minor.

6. An adult or entity approved by the ORR

While children are in ORR care they are served through a network of federally funded care providers licensed by the state in which they operate. The shelters provide services such as classroom education, medical care, and socialization and recreation for the children.

ORR evaluates and investigates the background of each person or entity wishing to sponsor an unaccompanied minor to confirm that there is no history of abusive behavior and to ensure that the child is in good hands.

ORR also interviews the children, and may consult with the consulate of the unaccompanied child's home country, to ensure that both agree to the reunification ORR proposes to make. The parent or guardian must complete a Parent Reunification Packet to attest that he or she agrees to assume responsibility for the unaccompanied child and provide adequate care.

If in conducting a case investigation ORR finds actual or potential evidence of abuse or trafficking, the agency may require a home study of the potential sponsor.

Silvia, it is of utmost importance that you consult with an immigration attorney or a federally accredited representative to assist you with your daughter's reunification process and representation in immigration court.

I remind you that notaries, immigration consultants, paper fillers and multi-services are not authorized to give you legal advice.

For more information and immigration tips, read my blog

Send your questions to Include detailed information about your situation to better answer your questions.

Nelson A. Castillo, Esq. is an immigration attorney and author of La Tarjeta Verde: Cómo Obtener la Residencia Permanente en los Estados Unidos (Green Card: How to Obtain Permanent Residence in the United States). He is a past President of the Hispanic National Bar Association and current President of the Westlake South Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. To contact Mr. Castillo's office, please call (213) 537-VISA (8472).