In 2003, the United States Department of Health & Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) provided seed funding to build a model project to provide guardians ad litem (Child Advocates) for unaccompanied immigrant children. Although civil and criminal courts routinely appoint guardians ad litem to represent the best interests of minors—and although the US “best interests” model was the benchmark around which the international Convention on the Rights of the Child was crafted—US Immigration Courts do not recognize immigrant children as distinct from adults, nor do they consider the children’s best interests when deciding whether to grant protection or order the child deported.
The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights developed a model through which Young Center attorneys who have experience in children’s rights and immigration recruit, train and supervise bilingual law and social work students as well as lay volunteers who are assigned to serve as Child Advocates for individual unaccompanied children. Many of the students and volunteers are immigrants themselves, or the children of immigrants.
Informed by our work on behalf of individual children, the Young Center also advocates for policy change at the national level. In March 2006, the Young Center was invited to join the legal clinic at the University of Chicago Law School as an independent project.