Fordham University School of Law's Feerick Center for Social Justice has started the New York Unaccompanied Immigrant Children Project, an effort to improve policy and practice toward children often caught in a complex system. The project aims to bring together local child advocacy groups, researchers and government stakeholders to examine policy toward these children at the state and local levels. It will conduct legal and policy research and surveys for stakeholders in this area in addition to coordinating community service work and pro bono opportunities for law students. Students also will be able to take a seminar on policy surrounding unaccompanied immigrant children next fall.
New York City is critical for this issue, said Dora Galacatos, adjunct professor and director of the Feerick Center. In addition to the undocumented children who have grown up here, Galacatos said, the city is a destination for runaways from across the United States. Their status as undocumented minors leaves them vulnerable to legal and social problems including homelessness, lack of health care, difficulty accessing education, lack of legal representation, and susceptibility to abuse.
"Immigration is always thought of as a federal issue," Galacatos said. "But undocumented immigrant children are children first. The challenge is to make sure they're thought of as children first." The project's newly hired director is Olga Byrne, a Fordham Law alum who most recently worked for the Vera Institute of Justice on two national programs designed to improve access to legal services for immigrants in removal proceedings.