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A critical examination of policies and practices impacting the education of unaccompanied immigrant children in the United States




education policy, critical race theory, immigration policy, unaccompanied immigrant children


Beginning in 2014, increasing numbers of unaccompanied immigrant children (UIC) arrived and were apprehended at the United States-Mexico border. These children were fleeing violence, poverty, environmental disasters, as well as state-sanctioned violence and political instability influenced by interventions and support from the U.S. government spanning several decades. The purpose of this article was to examine the factors that shape the educational experiences of UIC in the United States during and after detention. The following questions guided this analysis: (1) What policies and practices impact the education of apprehended UIC in the United States? (2) What are the conditions formerly apprehended UIC encounter in schools? A review of the literature between 2000 and 2022 was conducted, including peer-reviewed articles, commentaries, legal documents, and news articles. The literature raises concerns about the quality, effectiveness, and availability of academic resources for these children. This review demonstrates the need for additional research and policy changes aimed at improving the educational conditions of UIC in shelters and communities after reunification, and it offers recommendations to school districts, policymakers, and researchers on how to best address the academic and non-academic needs of formerly apprehended UIC in the United States.


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Author Biographies

Ruth M. López, University of Houston

Ruth M. López is an assistant professor at the University of Houston. In her research, she addresses the social and political contexts that students of color navigate across K-12 schools and higher education. Her research agenda spans three lines of inquiry: 1) the intersections of education and immigration policies, 2) college access for nondominant students, and 3) culturally responsive education and family engagement. Her commitment to these issues is informed by her lived experiences as the daughter of immigrants from El Salvador and Mexico.

Natalia Giraldo-Santiago, Massachusetts General Hospital & Harvard Medical School

Natalia Giraldo-Santiago is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Disparities Research Unit located at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School (HMS). She is a social worker, educator, and a researcher studying the effects of socio-cultural and environmental stressors on the mental health of Hispanic and Latinx adolescents and their parents in the United States. Her research is informed by over five years providing mental health services in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient treatment centers and government-sponsored shelters for unaccompanied migrant youth.




How to Cite

López, R. M., & Giraldo-Santiago, N. (2023). A critical examination of policies and practices impacting the education of unaccompanied immigrant children in the United States. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 31.