The Children's Stories
Pseudonyms have been used to protect the children's identities.
1. In some cases, the Child Advocate is asked to identify the reasons why a child was brought here and what, if anything, he or she has to return to.
Nabil was 16 years old when he arrived as a stowaway from North Africa and was apprehended by U.S. immigration authorities. When first interviewed by the authorities, Nabil stated that he could return safely to his home country. When later interviewed by staff at the children's shelter, he persisted in denying that he had a fear of returning back to his country. After several visits with Nabil, the assigned Advocate, an immigrant from the same home country who spoke the native dialect, discovered Nabil lived in the streets because he was rejected by his family. In addition, he suffered from almost daily torment by the police. Nabil said he didn't want to talk about his experiences because he feared being imprisioned for criticizing the government if he was deported. Nabil was afraid to talk to the shelter staff and his assigned attorney because they did not speak his language and he generally was distrustful of other adults. The Advocate encouraged Nabil to tell his story to his attorney and this story was paramount for the purpose of applying for immigration relief. Nabil received another “credible fear” interview, which his Advocate attended with him. The immigration authorities determined that Nabil had a credible fear of returning to his home country. Nabil received pro bono counsel through the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago. The Advocate served as a critical member of his legal team, helping research child abandonment in North Africa, helping Nabil articulate to his counsel the suffering he experienced, and helping counsel understand the cultural dynamics and Nabil's concerns with his immigration case. Nabil was granted immigration relief in March 2006.
2. The Child Advocate accompanies the child to Immigration Court and ensures the child’s participation in the proceedings.
Ming Xia, a diminutive girl from China, was 17 when she arrived at the ICC. Despite her chronological age, she was developmentally like a young girl of 10 or 11 years old. There was a suspicion that Ming Xia’s private attorney was working for her trafficker; the International Children's Center in Chicago received repeated phone calls from an attorney purporting to represent Ming, but the attorney did not have her A number, had never spoken to her and provided a sponsor’s name that Ming did not recognize. The Advocate spent time with Ming explaining the role of an attorney and the option of choosing to be represented by a pro bono attorney. Ming requested a pro bono attorney through the National Immigrant Justice Center. The Advocate put Ming’s story in context for the pro bono attorney, helped prepare Ming for her asylum hearing and accompanied her to court. The Immigration Judge was very aggressive and the Advocate, who sat by Ming’s side, helped her maintain her composure throughout the grueling afternoon. The judge granted relief and Ming is now living with a foster family and attending high school, safe from the traffickers.
3. The Child Advocate ensures the child has legal representation.In some cases, private attorneys say they are representing detained children, yet the attorneys have no intention of providing legal representation beyond securing the child’s release from detention. The Advocate ensures the attorney is actually representing the child and if not, educates the child about the option of choosing a different attorney.
When he arrived at the International Children’s Center in Chicago, it was clear to his case manager that Xie Min, a 16-year-old boy from China, had a mental disability. When an Advocate was assigned, she learned that while living in foster care in Seattle, Xie had been required to participate in his asylum hearing pro se and without any adult to accompany him. The Advocate obtained a transcript of the immigration proceeding in which the boy had given nonsensical answers to the government attorney’s questions; nevertheless, the Immigration Judge proceeded with the hearing and denied relief. The Advocate contacted the attorney of record who had filed a notice of appeal. The attorney told her that his only goal had been to get the boy released from custody and that he had no plans to prepare an appellate brief, which was due the next day. The Advocate contacted the National Immigrant Justice Center which found pro bono counsel to prepare and file a motion to reopen with the BIA, which motion was granted and the case has since been remanded to the Immigration Court. The Advocate has continued to be involved with Xie; she calls Xie regularly and facilitates communication with his pro bono attorney who will represent him in his new hearing before the Immigration Court.
4. The Child Advocate provides critical advice to attorneys regarding the child’s best interests.Child Advocates provide critical advice to attorneys regarding children’s best interests, particularly for younger children. The Advocates also help the children understand their situation and work with their attorneys to counsel them on the best long-term decision.
Susana and Ramon Lopez were 8- and 10-year-old siblings taken into custody at the U.S.-Mexico border. The children had traveled with a smuggler from Honduras to be reunited with their parents who were living in the United States. The Advocate spent a significant amount of time with the children, getting to know them and learning about their lives in Honduras. While in Honduras, the children had been abused by their relatives who beat them and refused to allow Susana to attend school. While at the shelter, the children persistently asked to be returned to Honduras—Honduras was all they knew. The Advocate wrote a letter detailing the children’s history, citing relevant provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to support the attorneys’ request that they be released to their undocumented parents in the United States. The Advocate also helped the children remain patient so that they could be reunited with their parents. The request was ultimately granted and the children are being represented by pro bono attorneys in their new community.
5. Child Advocates prepare best interest recommendations according to principles set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and UNHCR Guidelines.
Marco and Johana were 6 and 7
year old siblings from Central America who’d been abandoned
and abused by their family. The children were represented by attorneys
at ProBAR, in Harlingen, Texas. The Immigration Judge expressed
discomfort with making a decision about such young children without
a parent or guardian. At the attorney’s request, Child Protection
Advocates in Chicago prepared a best interest report which incorporated:
summary of interview with shelter caseworker who knew the children
well, the psychologist’s report and recommendations, the views
of the children and reports on country conditions and child protection
services in the country of origin. As part of the asylum hearing,
the children’s attorney submitted the best interest report
to DHS and the Immigration Judge. The children were granted asylum.
After being orphaned in Morocco, Fanny Clonch was trapped in households where she was nothing more than a commodity. The story of her grandmother, who as a child had been sold into slavery and eventually escaped, inspired Fanny to find a way out.
Reported and co-produced by Alex Kotlowitz and edited and co-produced by Amy Dorn. [12:46 min.]
Exodus of One, by Alex Kotlowitz for
This American Life
Just three years old, Georgia was caught by immigration officials when a Milwaukee woman brought her into the country illegally from Jamaica. She ended up at a residential shelter in Chicago. No one knew much about Georgia—where she was from in Jamaica, who her parents were, or how she ended up with this woman from Milwaukee. [42 min.]
Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights
at the University of Chicago
6020 South University Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
© 2006 Immigrant Child Advocacy Project.
All rights reserved.
Axie Breen and Brian Robinson
Home page main photo by Tony Armour.
All others by Kathy Richland Pick.