Maria Woltjen launched the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, a national initiative that provides guardians ad litem (Child Protection Advocates) for unaccompanied immigrant children detained by the federal government, in 2003. She began her legal career in 1987 as a litigator at Coffield, Ungaretti, Harris & Slavin, where she devoted substantial time to pro bono cases, and since then her career has centered on children's rights. She directed the Children's Advocacy Project of the Chicago Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, focusing on delinquency, health and disabilities. Additionally, she worked for several years as adjunct faculty at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law. Woltjen also serves on numerous boards and committees in the immigration field including the Washington, D.C.-based Working Group on Unaccompanied Children, the Leadership Council of the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Illinois Task Force on Unaccompanied Immigrant Children. She earned a BS from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a JD from the Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, where she was executive editor of lead articles, for the Loyola University of Chicago Law Journal.