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Where do kids separated from parents at border go? Some are in California

Protestors rally outside of immigration offices in Sacramento to keep families together

Protestors rally to keep families together at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Sacramento on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.
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Protestors rally to keep families together at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Sacramento on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.

As thousands of immigrant children head to tent camps and converted big-box shelters, a small number of kids separated from their parents by federal immigration officials at the border are being cared for by private foster agencies, including a handful in California and the Sacramento area.

At least a dozen immigrant children – kids who crossed the border alone or were separated from parents at the border – have been placed in California foster homes by International Christian Adoptions, according to executive director Charlotte Paulsen.

The foster care agency, headquartered in Temecula in Southern California with a satellite office in Citrus Heights, is one of about a dozen across the country that specializes in caring for unaccompanied immigrant minors.

The federal government's Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the agency charged with the care of unaccompanied immigrant minors, contracts with two main resettlement agencies for foster care services: Baltimore-based Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and Washington, D.C.-based United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Both of those organizations, in turn, contract with foster care agencies across the country.

USCCB works mostly with long-term placement for immigrant kids who don't have family in the United States, said Katie Kuennen, associate director of children's services for the organization. Its programs include placement for victims of human trafficking and kids who have been granted a temporary legal status and are in immigration proceedings.

LIRS handles short-term and transitional placement in addition to other services, according to its website. A representative of the agency could not be reached.

The LIRS website said it currently has 148 kids in its care who have been separated from families at the border in recent months.

Paulsen said she was unable to confirm how many immigrant children her agency had placed in foster homes, or where those homes are for privacy reasons. The program takes children, ranging from infants up to those 12 years old, and places them with families in multiple counties in California, Paulsen said.

She said she has seen an increase in the number of kids referred to the foster agency by federal authorities in recent months as the Trump administration has implemented a controversial policy of criminally prosecuting all adults suspected of illegally crossing the border.

Until recently, the designation of "unaccompanied minor" largely referred to a child traveling across the border alone. The recent switch by the U.S. Department of Justice to a "zero tolerance" policy means adults are automatically charged and sent to federal detention facilities to await prosecution – where children can't be held.

Children traveling with them have increasingly been labeled as "unaccompanied" and placed in the custody of ORR, where they can be placed in shelters, foster homes or in some cases with sponsors including family members already in the United States.

The policy of separating families has drawn intense criticism. A poll this week conducted by Quinnipiac University found 66 percent of Americans oppose the separation policy.

Tuesday, USCCB posted a bulletin to its care providers urging them to file civil rights complaints with the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of children in their care who may have been separated from their families.

"We do want to ensure that children and families are not inappropriately separated," said Kuennen.

Tuesday, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray called the policies "cruel and inhumane" and highlighted the case of a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome being separated from her mother and brother.

Protesters have held events across the country.

“I’m out here because children are being separated from their families and some are being held in cages. ... I don’t think that’s right," said Davis resident Kathy Miura during a small protest in front of ICE offices on Capitol Mall in Sacramento. "My parents were interned during World War II in internment camps, because of their ancestry, they were picked up because they were Japanese-Americans. ... This is very similar.”

This article has been updated to correct the location of ICA's main office. It is located in Temecula, not Fullerton.

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