LIHUE — Tens of thousands of refugee children are escaping violence by making their way across the southern border of the United States this year.
A few of them have landed in Hawaii, but whether they’ve made Kauai home is yet to be determined.
“A total of eight minors were discharged from the Unaccompanied Alien Children program to sponsors in Hawaii,” said Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.
The sponsorships occurred between January and early July.
Citing privacy reasons, the state DHS Foster Care Licensing Unit in Lihue could not confirm or deny whether any licensed foster care family on Kauai had adopted a refugee youth.
LaVerne Bishop, director of the nonprofit Hale Opio Kauai with programs for youth and families including therapeutic foster care, said her office has not had any contact with refugee children from Mexico, Central or South America.
“Occasionally, we have youth show up from the Mainland in our emergency shelter, but placement comes through state agencies and there is an inter-state compact that comes into play,” Bishop said.
The Office or Refugee Resettlement reported 6,775 unaccompanied refugee children between all of 2003 and 2011. There were 13,625 in 2012 and 24,668 in 2013. Another 60,000 referrals are anticipated by the end of 2014 — although reports this week say the number has stabilized to the point where no new refugee placement centers are planned.
Most of the children are coming from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Ecuador. A smaller percentage come from other South and Central American countries. The average youth refugee is 14 years old and 73 percent are male.
The reasons for their journey to America include escaping gang recruiting, violence, abuse, persecution and human trafficking in their home countries, according to ORR. Others want to reunify with family already here or seek work to support families back home.
The children are first detained by the U.S. Boarder Patrol. After being transferred to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, they are screened and many are repatriated, and those who remain are sponsored through the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program of the DHS.