(The Center Square) – In the past fiscal year, Florida received 10,542 unaccompanied children (UACs) from the border, many of whom were brought into the country illegally, according to data published by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, tasked with oversight of and caring for the children.
Florida received the third greatest number behind Texas and California as it has almost every year. UAC data has been reported since fiscal 2015.
From fiscal years 2015 to 2023, the greatest total number of UACs were “resettled” to Texas, followed by California and Florida, according to the data. Every year, the most populous states received the greatest number of children.
Over the past nine fiscal years, Florida received the third greatest number of 60,192. Texas received the most – 82,391, California the second-most at 68,249.
From March 2003 to July 2022, ORR says it has cared for more than 409,550 children. The overwhelming majority are males, by a roughly 70-30 split, according to ORR data.
According to federal law passed in 2003, “When a child who is not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian is apprehended by immigration authorities, the child is transferred to the care and custody of” the ORR. Federal law requires ORR to provide UACs with food, shelter, and medical care and release them “to safe settings with sponsors (usually family members), while they await immigration proceedings.”
Of the 10,542 unaccompanied children sent to Florida through ORR in fiscal 2023, 10,203 were released to sponsors in 29 Florida counties. The difference of 339 is reportedly due to the fact that not all are housed with sponsors. Many are sent to facilities managed by non-governmental organizations receiving tens of millions of dollars from federal and state governments nationwide.
The top three receiving counties were Miami-Dade (1,961), Palm Beach (1,508), and Lee (911).
Federal and state lawmakers have raised concerns about ORR’s oversight and care of the children once they are in the custody of sponsors and HHS-contracted facilities. Questions remain about unaccounted for children, allegations of abuse, and lack of accountability of officials responsible for their care.
At the state level, a Texas-based group has called on the Texas Legislature to enact reforms requiring minimum standards for facilities housing unaccompanied minors. At the federal level, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, attempted to hold the head of the ORR responsible by eliminating her salary. Instead, 45 Republicans joined Democrats to defeat him.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took the lead by calling for a grand jury investigation. Attorney General Ashley Moody called on Congress to investigate numerous allegations of abuse. Both have been demanding answers from the Biden administration on how many children have been sent to Florida, who and where they are.
In one grand jury report released earlier this year, it concluded that ORR was “facilitating the forced migration, sale, and abuse of foreign children. … This process exposes children to horrifying health conditions, constant criminal threat, labor and sex trafficking, robbery, rape and other experiences not done justice by mere words.”
UACs have been placed with unrelated individuals and put in situations “where they are subject to abuse, including rape, molestation, and effectively forced to work to pay for their travel to the United States in violation of child labor laws,” Moody said.
Below are the 29 counties where sponsors received unaccompanied minors in fiscal 2023. If counties where HHS-contracted facilities are located were included, more would be on the list.
These numbers exclude the number of children in Florida counties who arrived at the southern or norther borders as part of family units. They were released into the country by the Biden administration without undergoing DNA testing to determine if they were related to the adults with whom they were traveling, according to a recent policy change.