Unaccompanied child migrants often encounter tremendous risks throughout their journeys into the United States. If they are apprehended after entering the U.S., they begin a new journey through the federal justice system. For these children, access to legal representation can influence how this new journey unfolds and whether they are ultimately allowed to stay.


More than half of the child migrants whose cases were adjudicated in Arizona were from Guatemala. Many others come from El Salvador, Honduras or Mexico.

Following one case

There are eight possible outcomes for child migrants going through immigration court proceedings. The most frequent outcome of a court hearing was transfer of the case to another immigration court or another state. Children with attorneys are less likely to be deported or transferred to another state. The majority of kids have multiple proceedings.

Nearly 3,000 cases are pending for child migrants who entered the justice system in Arizona.

Since 2004, children entering the federal court system through Arizona have been transferred to 45 cities in the U.S.

A Word from the experts

Margo Cowan

"When kids appear and they don’t have relief, the only relief they have is asylum and those are not applications that children can prepare by themselves. Those are sophisticated applications."

Greg Chen

"Well, the most dramatic issue that we are talking about here is when a child or anybody doesn’t have legal counsel, their understanding of what is going on in immigration law proceedings is extremely limited."


Although the influx of immigrant children has decreased since summer 2014, the economic and political instability in Central America remains. As long as children continue to face violence in Central America, the U.S. is likely to see waves of unaccompanied child migrants in the future.


Kate Gunby

Lucio Villa
News Applications Developer

Astrid Galván

Brian White

Jeannine Relly
Researcher and Assistant Professor
University of Arizona School of Journalism

Susan E. Swanberg


Narrator: Claire Bustamante
Main Photo: Nick Oza
Data: TRAC


Nick Oza
Ken McBride
Claire Bustamante
Arizona Migrahack