Child Advocates for trafficking victims and vulnerable unaccompanied children. The Young Center recruits, trains, and supervises bilingual and bicultural law students, social work students, and lay volunteers who are assigned to serve as Child Advocates for individual children in federal custody in Chicago. Until Child Advocate programs are established in other parts of the country, the Young Center trains a small number of individual volunteers in specific cities around the United States who are assigned as Child Advocates in particularly complex cases. As with all Young Center assignments, Child Advocates are supervised by attorneys with expertise in immigration law and children’s rights, and they direct all advocacy on behalf of individual children.
International Home Studies. Some children wish to return to their home countries, while others face removal against their wishes. In cases where children face repatriation, the Young Center seeks to determine whether the child can be safely repatriated, as required by the Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. In cases where there are significant concerns about a child’s safety upon repatriation, the Young Center will contract out a social worker in the child’s home country to visit the child’s home and conduct a home study to determine whether it would be safe for the child to return. The Young Center uses these home studies to inform the best interests recommendations, which we then submit to attorneys and federal immigration authorities, including the Department of Homeland Security, immigration judges and the Asylum Office.
Through this work, the Young Center hopes to ensure the safety of individual children who either choose to or are forced to repatriate. In addition, the Young Center seeks reform more broadly in the immigration system by making the case that decision-makers should always request evidence of whether a child has a safe home to return to before ordering a child deported. These home studies cost approximately $500 per study and the Young Center raises private funds to do this work.
Best Interests Determination Panels (BID Panels). The UNHCR BID Guidelines serve as the template for the Young Center’s work as Child Advocates for unaccompanied and separated immigrant children. Originally designed to provide a multidisciplinary forum for reaching decisions about the best interests of children in refugee situations, the UNHCR BID Guidelines also apply to cases involving unaccompanied and separated children in the United States. These include:
• Identifying durable solutions (i.e., voluntary return to the country of origin, resettlement in a third country, or local integration in the country of refuge);
• Making temporary care arrangements;
• Separating a child from parents against the parents’ will; and
• Safe repatriation and reintegration.
The BID Panel is a group of experts who convene to discuss difficult cases and attempt to reach consensus regarding a best interests recommendation. A BID panel should consist of individuals from varied disciplines and diverse backgrounds. At minimum, a BID panel should include the following professionals: the Child Advocate appointed to the child’s case, Young Center staff, an immigration attorney, a child protection specialist, and an expert on, or from, the child’s country of origin (if possible, this panel member should join the meeting from the child’s home country via Skype or phone). Depending on the case, the BID panel may also include experts from other relevant disciplines including child development, juvenile justice, psychology, counseling, child maltreatment, domestic violence, and international human rights. When possible, the panel should include persons from the same ethnic or national background as the child, as well as panel participants of both genders.
Substantive Best Interests Standard. The best interests of the child standard is the fundamental principle guiding decisions in US domestic child welfare law and international law as set forth in the laws of all 50 states and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, at present, US immigration law does not have a statutory best interests standard for children in immigration proceedings. The Child Advocates make best interests recommendations to decision-makers using standards set forth in child welfare and international law, but unfortunately, many immigration judges still do not consider the child’s safety and well-being when making decisions regarding removal. We regularly see cases where children face long-term separation from their parents if deported, or face returning to countries where they have no one to care for them, but they still lack a basis to apply for immigration status. Some decision-makers believe that without a statutory best interests standard, their hands are tied and they must order the child deported in such cases.
Protecting Children’s Right to be Raised by their Parents. The Young Center works on national initiatives to protect the rights of children who have been separated from their parents, and in particular, their right to be raised and cared for by their parents. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 9, specifically protects children against separation from their parents against their will, absent a determination by competent authorities subject to judicial review that separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. In 2010, and again in 2012, Young Center attorneys and law students in the Young Center’s clinic at the University of Chicago Law School submitted an amicus brief in the case of In re CMBR, in which an infant child was permanently separated from his mother after she was detained in an immigration raid. The Young Center’s amicus brief applied United States and international law to highlight that the child’s rights were repeatedly violated when he was adopted by a couple unknown to his mother or family, and argued that he should be returned to his mother. Early this year, the Missouri Supreme Court invalidated the child’s adoption.
Beds on the Border. Border communities often lack resources like psychiatric and counseling services for children with some of the most complex cases. We are advocating for the government to cease the practice of placing unaccompanied children on or near the border, where resources are scarce.