“It’s very difficult to meet the needs of kids in these settings,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense (“KIND”), discussing the continuing outflow of unaccompanied refugee children from Central America escaping violence. Young was at the Law School on April 20, 2018, to deliver a talk on “Refugee Protection at a Crossroads: The Central American Crisis and the U.S. Response.” She discussed the history of the U.S. immigration and asylum system, the treatment of these children within the system, and the impact of the current administration’s position on the issue. Her organization, KIND, provides pro bono legal services to unaccompanied refugee children and policy advocacy on their behalf.
Young began by noting how the U.S. immigration and asylum system was originally constructed with adults in mind. But “when kids are alone in the system, you need to meet them halfway,” Young said, describing how unaccompanied, unrepresented children face deportation proceedings that often result in their return to the same life-threatening situations that they came from. Young described how litigation and legislation efforts in the 1990s resulted in greater protections. In particular, Young explained how these efforts resulted in the creation of separate juvenile dockets within the immigration courts and U.S. investment in human development programs across Central America.
But that “very careful progress,” Young said, is “at risk” with the current administration. She noted that the Trump Administration is opening large, penal-like facilities to house detained children and that a new policy that reclassifies children who arrived to the United States with their families as unaccompanied children resulted in their parents being deported, while the children were left behind in federal custody.
Young’s advice to law students who want to help was simple: “Apply for a job.” Ultimately, to preserve current protections and make new progress, Young said that “we need to start speaking up to turn this around.”