How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Nearly 4,000 unaccompanied child migrants reunited with family in CA, half in LA County

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Almost 4,000 unaccompanied child migrants were reunited with relatives and adult sponsors in California between the beginning of this year and July 31. But California doesn't top the list of destination states for these kids, who have settled here and in other regions that have strong Central American communities.

According to numbers released by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), Texas tops the list, with 5,280 minors reunited with family members and other adult sponsors since the beginning of the year. New York saw 4,244 kids reunited with relatives. Next in line was California, where 3,909 kids were released to sponsors. Florida had 3,809.

Minors under 18 who are apprehended by immigration officials are placed in the custody of the ORR, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They are placed in shelters while federal officials find and screen adult relatives to place them with.

Los Angeles County ranks as the top California county for these reunions by far: 1,993 kids were reunited with family members and sponsors since the start of the year. The L.A. County region is home to large populations of immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala.

Most of the more than 60,000 unaccompanied minors who have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border since last October are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Honduran immigrants are most heavily concentrated in Florida and Texas.

The numbers provide a glimpse into the demand these states are likely to see as these young migrants settle into life in the United States, whether they stay temporarily or long-term. Fewer young migrants from Central America have been arriving lately at the border. But those who did arrive during the earlier part of the year are now going through the immigration court process, living with relatives as they wait for their cases to be resolved.

In Los Angeles and other destination cities, this has strained resources in the immigration courts as a limited number of judges hear a growing number of children's cases, expedited lately in hopes of quick resolution.

Many these kids have started school. In August, just as the academic year began, Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy announced that he was planning for 1,000 recently-arrived child migrants and would "know more when our doors open."

And while it's not clear how many will win the right to remain in the U.S., there will other be long-term ripples. Because many of these kids fled violent conditions in their native countries - and in some cases, suffered abuse en route north - educators and county officials must plan ahead for mental health demands, said Salvador Sanabria, executive director of El Rescate, which provides legal and other assistance to Los Angeles' Central American community.

"Many, the great majority, will need some kind of therapy to deal with their trauma," Sanabria said in a recent interview.  "Many of these kids, to come here, they suffered abuse. Others resent their parents that left them - and now they are a reunited with them. There are a lot of sequels that we are not seeing yet, but that we'll have to deal with as an Angeleno community."

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