Original document was submitted as an honors thesis requirement. Copyright is held by the author.

Document Type



In the 21st century, the issue of unaccompanied immigrant children remains the source of controversy in the United States. Polarized between the concerns of child welfare advocacy groups and those of immigration security supporters, the question of what to do with these children finds no easy answer in the discussion of enacting comprehensive immigration reform. But while the debate continues to gain momentum, unaccompanied immigrant children are thrown into a broken system that fails to protect their wellbeing.

Through the findings of a series of scholars, organizations, and community activists, this paper investigates the plight of unaccompanied immigrant children and recommends that the use of immigration detention centers must be eliminated. My research reveals how contradictory congressional mandates prevent federal immigration agencies from acting in accordance to the best interest principle. I also expose how the move to privatize the detention center system and the inherent federal concern to address national security makes it impossible to prioritize the interests of children.

In demonstrating that the detainment of unaccompanied immigrant children is inefficient, inhumane, and unnecessary, I argue that the United States government must seek to enact and enforce ‘alternatives to detention’ programs. Through these initiatives, the immigration system can guarantee that the best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children will be of main concern. Since the U.S. fails to move in this direction, it violates the very principles it sets out to maintain.