US detention of migrant children

This project found that since 2013, nearly 1,000 migrant children had spent more than a year—and at least three children had spent more than five years—despite the program’s stated objective of placing children with sponsors as soon as possible.

October 2020

A chart comprising a grid of circles that each encode a child detained by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. One circle is selected and shows a box of text stating “A 13-year-old girl born in El Salvador entered custody in 2016 and spent 1,292 days in shelters in Texas before she was released for unknown reasons.”

Reveal sued the Office of Refugee Resettlement to obtain data on more than 265,000 children who had entered its custody since 2014.


I analyzed the data in collaboration with Aura Bogado and found that although children are only supposed to be in shelters for a few days or weeks, thousands had spent three months or more. As noted in the description above, we also found that nearly 1,000 children had spent more than a year in custody, and at least three had been held for more than five years.

In addition to the analysis, I designed a column chart depicting the proportion of children whose stays were 100 days or longer, by the month they entered custody, as I’d found a nontrivial increase in that proportion following the implementation of the Trump administration’s separation policy in 2018.

I designed a dot plot visualization expounding what happened to the children who were in custody for a year or more by programmatically generating prose from the data.