UCLA Study Says US Is Behind 79 Other Countries in Preventing Detention of Migrant Children

Jul 16, 2021
4:07 PM

Migrant children lie inside a pod at the Donna Department of Homeland Security detention center run by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Donna, Texas Tuesday, March 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, Pool)

A study that analyzed protections for migrant children said that the United States is behind 79 other countries in preventing detention.

The study also noted that only 11% of 150 countries have laws protecting migrant children from detention.

“Preventing Immigration Detention of Children: a Comparative Study of Laws in 150 Countries” from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s WORLD Policy Analysis Center was published in the July edition of the peer-reviewed International Journal of Human Rights.

According to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 330,000 children are detained for reasons related to migration every year.

This study systematically coded legal restrictions on detention and includes data about the consequences of this type of law. 

“The United States offers minimal legal protection to unaccompanied minors and, in the case of children in detention, has no legal guarantees of access to adequate health care or education,” the report said.

In recent years, the United States has seen hundreds of immigrant families separated, and thousands of children remain detained. As of July 15, the federal government reported that it was holding at least 16,229 migrant children.


However, detaining migrant children is not limited to U.S. policy.

“Family unity was guaranteed for asylum-seeking minors by only 23% of countries and for migrant minors by only 25% of countries when detention was permitted,” according to the study. 


The U.S. is also not among the 34% of high-income countries that guarantee access to education for detained accompanied child migrants or the 44% of high-income countries that guarantee access to healthcare.  

Detentions situations have created scenarios where the emotional stability and mental health of migrant children, who sometimes arrive with traumas from their home countries, cannot be guaranteed. Children living in detention were significantly more likely to have poor social and emotional outcomes.

Experts who worked on the study have called on authorities to legislate beyond political parties and make children’s rights an immediate priority.

“The child detention crisis did not begin or resolve with a single administration, and these longstanding gaps in the law have left countless children vulnerable to grave health risks and human rights violations. Adopting legal protections that provide for the types of effective alternatives to detention modeled elsewhere is critical to bringing the U.S. in line with its peers and ensuring children can no longer be detained or denied access to health and education simply because of their migration status,” said Dr. Jody Heymann, a UCLA distinguished professor of public health, public policy, and medicine.

The study also proposed alternatives to the detention of migrant children, which include the following:

  • A release without or with conditions
  • A release with bail or bond
  • Community-based programs that are supervised by NGOs or the government
  • Designated residence, electronic tagging, or tracking of home curfews


Juanita Ramos Ardila is a Colombian journalist who has written for El Tiempo and ColPrensa. An M.A. Journalism candidate at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, Juanita is also Latino Rebels’ 2021 Summer Correspondent. Twitter: @JuanitaRamosA.