The Young Center’s Goal.

The Young Center’s goal is to change the immigration system to ensure that all decisions made on behalf of immigrant children are made in consideration of the child’s best interests, safety and well-being.

The Problem. A century after the creation of special courts for children such as juvenile courts and family courts where best interests of the child are the standard, the US immigration system continues to require children in Immigration Court to meet the same procedural, evidentiary, and legal rules as adults. In other words, there are no special immigration courts for children, no immigration judges or asylum officers specifically assigned to work with children, and no substantive best interests standard in the Immigration & Nationality Act. Immigration authorities are not required to consider the child’s best interests, even though the decisions carry tremendous consequences—deportation, separation from parents, and banishment from the United States.The Young Center tackles this problem on multiple levels.

 

The Young Center tackles this problem on multiple levels.

1. We serve as Child Advocates (guardians ad litem) and promote change by advocating for the best interests of individual immigrant children. In every case assigned a Child Advocate, the Young Center provides the child’s attorney (if he or she is represented) and the decision-maker with a report about the best interests of that individual child.

2. We accompany children to Immigration Court as their Child Advocates and provide best interests recommendations to individual judges and immigration officials. In this way, judges and immigration officials become more educated about the issues at stake for unaccompanied immigrant children. Our aim is to encourage decision-makers to ask for a best interests recommendation the next time they encounter a case in which they must decide whether or not to deport a vulnerable child.

3. We commission international home studies to assess safety risks associated with repatriation and link children with non-governmental organizations whether the children return to their home countries or remain in the US. Thus, we help to ensure the child’s long-term best interests.

4. We work with stakeholders in the immigration system to implement child-appropriate procedures.

Since 2003, the Young Center has advocated for the best interests of over 500 unaccompanied immigrant children on issues of protection, safe repatriation, custody, and permanency, according to the principles set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as state and federal child protection statutes. We have made significant progress in Chicago, where the immigration judge now affirmatively asks that Child Advocates be assigned for vulnerable unaccompanied children. We have conducted more than twenty international home studies in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and India. In some cases, the home studies have provided the evidence to show that it is safe for the child to return; in other cases, the reports have provided fact-based information to show why it would be dangerous for the child to go back. These case studies form the foundation for the Young Center’s advocacy for implementation of the best interests standard in decisions made about immigrant children, particularly with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.