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 An estimated 14%
(44.9 million) of the U.S. population are immigrants
(foreign-born individuals).

(American Immigration Council, 2019)


Contingent on the legal standing related to the circumstances of migration, immigrant youth may be: 

Immigrant youth can hold any or a few of the statuses above, and although this site provides information relevant to all immigrant youth, the site focuses on youth that come to the United States unaccompanied and may or may not have applied for refugee status. Understanding the immigration status and circumstances of migration of a student or family with whom a school mental health practitioner works is important to recognizing what benefits they have access to, the stability of their residency, and the post-resettlement stressors they may present with. 

In March 2021, the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehended 18,890 unaccompanied minors crossing into the United States (ORR, 2022), the largest percentage migrating from the northern region of Central America. 


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Refugee is a legal status provided to individuals who are recognized by the 1951 Convention as a person who has fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and has crossed an international border to find safety in another country. Refugees are generally people outside of their country who are unable or unwilling to return home because they fear and face serious harm (UNHCR, 1951). 

Unaccompanied Refugee Minors


Unaccompanied Refugee Minors are children/adolescents under the age of 18 who enter the United States legally through the U.S. refugee admission program, or children from the Unaccompanied Children (UAC) program who have received Special Juvenile Status.




Undocumented Immigrants anyone who enters the United States without proper authorization documents or entered legally but then overstays their visa.

Unaccompanied Children


Unaccompanied Children are children under the age of 18 who have entered the United States without lawful status and without an accompanying parent or legal guardian (ORR, 2022) 

Asylum Seekers/Asylees

Image by Katie Moum

Asylum Seekers/Asylees are individuals who have left their countries of origin because of persecution and serious human rights violations and are seeking protection from another country but whose refugee-status claims have not been verified. 


Authorized Immigrants

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Authorized Immigrants are foreign-born people legally admitted to the U.S (i.e., lawful permanent resident). 

Although the immigration experiences of refugee and unaccompanied youth from Central America are deeply personal and depend on various factors, there are common themes found among the pull and push factors, or forces that provoke or motivate migration to the United States. 



Push Factors force the person to leave their home, their country of origin, i.e., violence, political and/or economic instability, war, poverty, etc. 

Pull Factors are those that pull the person to migrate to a host country. For example: reuniting with family living in the host country, work and educational opportunities, financial stability, etc.

Research that explore the push and pull factors that influence the migration of unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central American countries to the United States found the following factors to be the most reported:           

 (Lorenzen, 2017; UNHCR, 2014; USCCB/MRS, 2012)

Image by Robert Katzki

Push Factors

Poverty and Violence

Image by Stijn Swinnen

Pull Factors

The desire to reunite with family they have been long separated from
Seeking better opportunities 

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