Drawing from a dozen years’ experience in providing legal services to unaccompanied immigrant children, the author describes the legal landscape navigated by immigrant children, and some of the challenges they face. The article suggests approaches to improved communication when serving a child who is an immigrant to the U.S., calls for an increase in cross-disciplinary collaboration, and concludes with a suggested reading and resource list.

Key Take Away Points

  • Taking stock of the context for children’s immigration can aid understanding of the needs and objectives of the children we serve.
  • In many cases, the risks and harms that spur a child’s migration will provide a basis for claims for humanitarian protection under U.S. law; a consultation with an experienced immigration lawyer is essential for any child who lacks permanent immigration status.
  • Families who have survived violence or other hardship may be pessimistic about outcomes or reluctant to ask for help, especially in stigmatized areas like mental health or special education.

Author Biography

Wendy Wylegala is a lawyer and Deputy Director for Legal Technical Assistance at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nonprofit organization assisting unaccompanied children facing immigration proceedings in the United States. She designs legal training programs, writes practice guidance, and provides technical assistance to a legal staff of over 130 based in KIND's ten field offices. Wendy joined KIND in November 2008 as a pro bono coordinator, working in the Newark, NJ and New York, NY field offices. In that capacity, she trained and mentored pro bono attorneys, and conducted intake interviews and know-your-rights programs for detained and released unaccompanied children. Later she served as supervising attorney in the New York field office for four years until assuming her current role in January 2016. Before joining KIND, Wendy worked at a private law firm for eight years, and represented special immigrant juvenile clients on a pro bono basis. Before attending law school, she was an Ombudsman at New York City’s Office of the Public Advocate. She is admitted to practice in New York, and received her law degree from New York University School of Law, and her B.A. from Barnard College. She is a member of the New York City Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and of the Immigration and Nationality Committee of the New York City Bar Association.