Since 2014, unaccompanied immigrant children have migrated to the United States in staggering numbers. The vast majority come from the Northern Triangle countries of Central America—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—and many are fleeing some of the highest homicide rates in the world. Immigration lawyers have highlighted many problems with the federal regime that cares for these children before they are released to family members or other adults living in the United States while their immigration cases move forward. Yet there is one group of unaccompanied minors that is not even on the radar of many advocates: unaccompanied children with disabilities.
Neither the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“Homeland Security” or “DHS”) nor the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“Health and Human Services” or “HHS”)—the two agencies charged with the care and custody of unaccompanied minors—keep publicly-available statistics on the number of children with disabilities in their custody. Some have estimated that the number could be as high as 12.6%, mirroring the percentage of disabled Americans. But the percentage of unaccompanied children with disabilities—especially the percentage with mental health conditions—is likely much higher. Indeed, one 2008 report estimated that about 15% of all non-citizens in immigration proceedings had mental disabilities. Though the report does not provide statistics for both adults and children, there are reasons to believe that the figure could be just as high or even higher for children, given that unaccompanied refugee minors are comparatively “at a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and other psychological sequelae such as depression and anxiety as a result of forced exile and exposure to traumatic events before, during, and after migration.”