Each year, thousands of children fleeing war and poverty enter the United States unaccompanied by an adult or separated from their parents or legal guardians. Although many of them meet conditions that would allow them to remain in the country legally, going through immigration proceedings without legal help is daunting.
In April of 2013, the offices of HIAS Pennsylvania got a call: the Vera Institute of Justice
had a project and our organization was perfect to undertake it. A facility primarily servicing the behavioral and mental health needs of children in rural Pennsylvania, would soon open its doors detained, unaccompanied immigrant youth. The immigration facility would house up to 75 youth at a given time, with most only remaining for a few months. Vera wanted to guarantee that these children would be receiving adequate education regarding the complicated United States immigration legal system.
HIAS Pennsylvania gladly accepted the project and under the leadership of Elizabeth Yaeger
, Immigrant Youth Advocacy Initiative Supervising Attorney the project has served thousands of youth since 2013.
Know Your Rights Coordinators travel back and forth between Philadelphia and the facility, providing group orientations to the youth detained at regarding their legal rights and responsibilities, as well as individual intakes to assess their options for relief from deportation. The goal for each child is reunification with a family member or friend within the United States. For those released to sponsors in Pennsylvania, HIAS PA continues to represent the children for the remainder of their case. For others, Know Your Rights Coordinators refer them to pro bono legal counsel near their new residence.
The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the US has ballooned dramatically over the last 10 years and even now shows few sign of decreasing - and as such, our Immigrant Youth Advocacy Initiative has also expanded. We are proud and excited to be on the forefront of providing legal access to these underserved youth.