LOS ANGELES (AP) — Government statistics show 8 of every 10 immigrant children arriving in the country alone are released to adults who are in the United States illegally.
Here are answers to common questions about who these adults, called sponsors, are and how the program works:
WHEN DID THE PROGRAM FOR THESE IMMIGRANT CHILDREN BEGIN, AND HOW LONG HAVE OFFICIALS ASKED ABOUT IMMIGRATION STATUS?
An office in the Department of Health and Human Services was tasked with the care and placement of unaccompanied immigrant children under a law passed in 2003. Since then, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has cared for more than 175,000 children, according to its website.
The office has been asking about immigration status since at least 2005, the department said.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS OF SCREENING SPONSORS FOR THE CHILDREN?
Children apprehended by border or immigration agents are sent to temporary shelters until case workers can screen suitable sponsors who can take them in.
The first choice of sponsor is a parent, followed by a close relative. Sponsors must provide proof of identity and their relationship to the child. They must undergo screening and records checks.
The office also checks out adult members of the household where the child will live.
In some instances, case workers will conduct a home study before the child can be placed.
WHO ARE THE CHILDREN, AND WHEN DID THEY START ARRIVING?
More than 57,000 immigrant children were placed in the Department of Health and Human Services' custody in the 2014 fiscal year, more than double the number a year earlier, as a surge in arrivals on the border in Texas overwhelmed shelters and further backlogged courts.
The following fiscal year, another 33,000 children were placed in the department's care.
That's compared with the roughly 7,000 or 8,000 children the program initially worked with each year.
Since the surge, more than 90 percent of children came from three countries combined: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Most are teens, and about a third are girls, according to the Department.
WHAT IS TEMPORARY PROTECTED STATUS?
Temporary protected status, or TPS, is a short-term and renewable legal status the U.S. government granted to citizens of several Central American countries more than a decade ago following natural disasters in the region.
It enables immigrants to stay in the country and work legally, but it does not let them petition to bring relatives to live here.
About 204,000 Salvadorans and 61,000 Hondurans are estimated to have TPS, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Six percent of unaccompanied immigrant children released in the 20 months ending in September 2015 went to sponsors with TPS.