National Immigrant Justice Center
By: Katie Curtis
I. CURRENT ISSUES IN THE IMMIGRATION SYSTEM RELATING TO CHILDREN
On average, there are approximately 10,000 immigrants every year in the United States
that are in need of legal counsel and representation. Thousands of these immigrants are
unaccompanied children that are detained in the Chicago area as part of immigration proceedings.
Children seek refuge in the United States for various reasons, such as to escape gangs, wars,
violence, abuse, or to reunite with their families. The major problem that unaccompanied children
face once they are in the United States include verbal, sexual, and physical abuse inflicted by the
United States Customs and Border Protection, the border enforcement agency of the United States
Department of Homeland Security. Such abuse has been happening for years, and despite being
aware of its prevalence, the Department of Homeland Security has not taken necessary action to
address the issue.
The maltreatment of unaccompanied immigrant children by the Department of Homeland
Security is the immigration system’s greatest problem and one that needs immediate reformation.
In fact, previous legislation has recognized the severity of the maltreatment of immigrant children
and addressed this issue. The Flores Settlement Agreement was the first settlement to create
guidelines on how children should be treated in immigration detention centers. The Flores
Settlement Agreement was established in 1985 when the American Civil Liberties Union, along
with four minors that had immigrated to the United States, filed a class action suit against the
Immigration and Naturalization Service to challenge the protocols of the detention, treatment, and
release of unaccompanied immigrant children. The Agreement created the following three
requirements that are now imposed on immigration authorities:
1. The government is required to release children from immigration detention
without unnecessary delay to, in order of preference, parents, other relatives, or
licensed programs willing to accept custody.
2. If a suitable placement is not immediately available, the government is
obligated to place children in the ‘least restrictive’ setting appropriate to their
age and any special needs.
3. The government must implement standards relating to the care and treatment of
children in immigration detention.
II. THE IMMIGRANT CHILDREN’S PROTECTION PROJECT
To address these issues and aid immigrant children, the National Immigrant Justice Center,
a non-governmental organization that provides legal services to unaccompanied children,
developed the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project to help the thousands of unaccompanied
immigrant children in the United States. The National Immigrant Justice Center has offices in
Chicago, Indiana, and Washington D.C. In these offices, legal services are provided through public
education, impact litigation, and policy reform. The project was developed by partners of the
nation’s leading law firms who had significant experience in providing pro bono legal services to