The mission of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights is to promote the best interests of immigrant children with due regard to the child’s expressed wishes, according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and state and federal law.
The Young Center is a champion for the best interests of children who arrive in the United States on their own, from all corners of the world. We serve as trusted allies for these children while they are in deportation proceedings, advocating for their best interests, and standing for the creation of a dedicated children’s immigrant justice system that ensures the safety and well-being of every child.
The Young Center’s goal is to change the immigration system so that children in immigration proceedings are recognized as children, and best interests are made a part of the decision making process.
Young Center’s Work
The Young Center is a human rights organization that advocates for the rights and best interests of immigrant children. Young Center attorneys and social workers, along with bilingual volunteers, are appointed as Child Advocate (guardian ad litem) by the Department of Health and Human Services. Our role is to advocate for their best interests—from custody and release to the ultimate decision about whether the child will be allowed to remain in the U.S. Our goal is to change both immigration policy and practice so that immigrant children are recognized first as children and their best interests are considered in every decision.
The Young Center was founded in Chicago in 2004. The charge was to develop a program to advocate for the best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children—even though US immigration law does not recognize children as distinct from adults.
The program started small. Attorneys and social workers with experience in children’s rights and immigration law supervised bilingual volunteers—Child Advocates—who spoke the children’s languages. They met with the children while they were detained, accompanied them to immigration court and advocated for their best interests every step of the way.
In 2008, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. One short paragraph provides for the appointment of Child Advocates whose role is to advocate for the child’s best interests, the first mention of the best interests standard for immigrant children.
In 2009, the Young Center opened an office in Harlingen, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border. Judges, detention staff, attorneys, even ICE officials began asking for Child Advocates.
In 2013 Congress amended the law providing for expansion of the Child Advocate program. Today the Young Center has offices in Houston, San Antonio Phoenix, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York, Harlingen and Chicago.