Anyone familiar with the labyrinthine U.S. immigration system would agree that children shouldn’t be expected to navigate it alone. Yet 8,000 children “without parents or papers” are apprehended by U.S. immigration officials each year, reports the University of Chicago Magazine , and they often must figure out forms that confound adults and attend hearings without their parents or sometimes even a lawyer.
To help these children, University of Chicago Law School lecturer Maria Woltjen started the Immigrant Child Advocacy Project (ICAP) in 2003. Advocates are usually attorneys or law students, and in addition to comforting children, they receive training from experts in immigration law, human trafficking, adolescent trauma, and childhood development.
Unfortunately, ICAP remains the only organization of its kind in the country. A similar organization is badly needed in the Southwest, Woltjen suggests, because of the influx of children from Central America. (Thanks to cheap airfare in the last few decades, children also arrive from as far away as Eastern Europe, South Asia, Africa, and the Far East.) A bill sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act, would guarantee every child an advocate, who could also accompany the child to immigration hearings. Whether fleeing from abusive families or war-torn countries, or brought by smugglers who profit from their labor, children who arrive alone and undocumented would doubtless benefit from advocates’ help, both emotional and legal.