National Immigrant Justice Center 73
children. Due to the resources provided by the National Immigrant Justice Center and the
experience of the attorneys working on the project, significant advancements have been made in
federal impact litigation and advocacy, setting positive precedents for children seeking human
rights protections in the United States.
The National Immigrant Justice System created this project after gathering information
from hundreds of intake interviews that took place with unaccompanied immigrant children held
in the Chicago area. During these interviews, volunteers at the National Immigrant Justice Center
analyzed the motives for immigrant children’s migration to the United States, the kind of treatment
the children received when they arrived in the United States, and the general experiences that these
children had in the United States immigration system. The National Immigrant Justice System
realized, upon apprehension, which initiates the process of detainment, that the Department of
Homeland Security would subject a majority of these children to poor treatment. For example, the
children would be held in extreme temperatures, shackled, experienced verbal, sexual, and
physical abuse, and were deprived of access to beds, food, and water. Furthermore, the Department
of Homeland Security agents would systematically deny necessary medical care to these children.
For unaccompanied immigrant children to have any chance of success in the United States’
immigration system, it is necessary for them to have access to legal representation. It is almost
impossible for a child to go through this process alone and succeed. The Immigrant Children’s
Protection Project offers resources to immigrant children that help address the four main
challenges these children face in the immigration system.
First, as a general matter, immigrant children do not have a right to court-appointed
counsel. Thus, such children are left with the option of retaining an attorney or appearing in court
without legal representation. The Immigrant Children’s Protection Project provides pro bono
counsel for immigrant children to provide assistance throughout the immigration proceedings.
Second, the immigration system is highly confusing and complex. A deportation
proceeding against a child usually starts when the Department of Homeland Security immigration
officials apprehend the child. An immigration official then transfers custody of the immigrant child
to Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is an office in the Department of Health and Human
Services. After the children are released from this office and sent to foster care, it is that child’s
responsibility to turn in paperwork to the court to inform them that the child has moved. Further,
the child must file a motion to change venue if the new address is in a different jurisdiction than
the one the child started in. If the child does not update the court of the new address, the child
could be ordered deported in absentia for failing to appear in court. The Children’s Protection
Project’s pro bono counsel ensures that the child complies with all such necessary procedural
Third, the Department of Homeland Security has not set out clear guidelines for
prosecutorial discretion in relation to unaccompanied immigrant children. Accordingly, it would
help unaccompanied immigrant children that have a strong tie to the United States to get relief if
the guidelines for prosecutorial discretion were expanded. The Immigrant Children’s Protection
Project seeks to change current legislation on prosecutorial discretion.