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Foreign National Minors

Immigrant minors are at risk of being trafficked in their home country, in transit, and within the United States:

  • In the home country: Due to poverty, gang violence, and civil and political unrest, minors may grow up in environments that make them vulnerable to trafficking exploitation. They may experience child abuse, gender-based violence, lack of educational opportunities or be forced into drug trafficking or labor trafficking, such as domestic servitude. Many minors are also trafficked for sex prior to entry into the United States, especially by gangs. 
  • In transit: On route to the United States, many minors pass through other countries and dangerous territories, sometimes alone. Some immigrant minors are used for forced labor and sex trafficking by drug cartels and organized crime, particularly in the areas surrounding U.S. border states. Some minors are kidnapped or fraudulently coerced into becoming drug mules or forced to work for the drug industry in other ways. Some, who have had their money stolen along the way, are forced to work in dangerous conditions to earn money to continue their journey. Other minors have reported being coerced to work on fishing boats as they tried to make their way into this country.
  • In the United States: Like adult migrants, minors are charged heavy fees by the people who smuggle them into the United States and are expected to earn the money to pay back the fees or pay additional expenses for their housing and food. This can lead to peonage and/or debt bondage. Minors may also be victimized by family members upon their arrival. Instead of providing care and better opportunities, minors may be treated like domestic servants and forced to work long hours with no time off, or be pressured to work in commercial sex, to pay their debts.

Eligibility Letters and Interim Eligibility Letters

The HHS/ORR Eligibility letter provides access to a variety public benefits, including:

  • Medical screenings
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • Medicaid
  • State Children’s Health Insurance Programs
  • Substance abuse and mental health services
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs
  • The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children
  • Public housing programs

Submit an application to ORR to request assistance for a child trafficking victim.

To access the URM program for a child trafficking victim, call an HHS/ORR Child Protection Specialist at 202.205.4582.

HHS/ORR helps foreign children who are trafficking victims become eligible for benefits and services in the United States. The first step is to issue an Eligibility Letter, followed by an Interim Assistance Letter that will allow the child to receive benefits for 90 days. Once local, state, or federal law enforcement identifies a minor victim of trafficking, they are required to notify HHS for assistance within 24 hours. Likewise, if HHS identifies a potential victim of trafficking via another referral, HHS will issue an Interim Assistance Letter and will consult with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security within 24 hours of the determination. Additionally, HHS may consult with nongovernmental organizations with expertise in trafficking before determining the child’s continued eligibility as a victim of trafficking. Children are not required to cooperate with law enforcement or to have been granted immigration status to receive assistance.

A child trafficking victim with an Eligibility Letter who has no available parent or legal guardian in the United States is eligible for ORR’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program. Children are placed in licensed foster homes or other care settings according to individual needs. An appropriate court awards legal responsibility to the state, county, or private agency providing services, to act in place of the child’s unavailable parents. Children in the URM program receive the full range of services available to other foster children in the state, as well as special services to help them adapt to life in the United States and recover from their trafficking experience. Safe reunification with parents or other appropriate relatives is encouraged when appropriate.

Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC)

Office for Refugee Resettlement’s data on UACs placed with sponsors can be found here by state and county.

Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs), are individuals under the age of 18 with no lawful U.S. status and no parents able to provide care and take physical custody. Most often, UACs arrive at U.S. ports of entry or are apprehended along the southwestern border with Mexico. They are apprehended in the interior of the country less frequently.  Children are especially vulnerable to various forms of trafficking and exploitation if they are in the process of escaping violence, poverty, or political repression. Many of these children also have to navigate complicated legal immigration systems and the challenges of reunifying with their families and/or integrating into new communities in the United States. Task forces should consider the potential impact of an influx of UACs into their communities and provide services that make these children less vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.

Required Responses to Unaccompanied Alien Children

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) share responsibility for the processing, treatment, and placement of UACs. DHS’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehends and detains unaccompanied children arrested at the border, while DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) handles custody transfer and repatriation, apprehends UACs in the interior of the country, and represents the government in removal proceedings. Any minor identified by ICE or CBP must be transferred to HHS custody within 72 hours after determining they are UACs.  HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) coordinates and implements the care and placement of unaccompanied children.
Both CBP and ORR are required to screen each UAC to determine if 1) the child has been a victim of trafficking, 2) there is credible evidence that the child would be at risk if returned to the country of origin, and 3) the child has a possible claim to asylum. UACs have access to legal counsel and HHS appoints independent child advocates for child trafficking victims and other vulnerable UACs.

It is possible that a UAC may not disclose a trafficking experience during an initial screening, so it is important for task forces to look for other indications that trafficking has taken place and conduct further screening if appropriate.


For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 4.5 Victim Populations.