Maria Woltjen Discusses Rise in Unaccompanied Minor Migrants on WBEZ

Sharp rise in young, unaccompanied illegal immigrants tests U.S.
Odette Yousef
June 4, 2013

An often-forgotten fact in the immigration debate is that lately, illegal border crossings to the U.S. have stagnated. Except that’s not the case for one category of immigrants: unaccompanied children.  In just the last couple of years, the number of minors apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol has nearly tripled. Many of these kids come through Chicago, where agencies are scrambling to handle the load...

“Right now kids are expected to find their own attorneys,” said Maria Woltjen, Director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago. Woltjen said non-government agencies try to find pro-bono attorneys for these kids, but sometimes they can’t.

“We expect these kids to walk into that federal building, to find the courtroom, to go into that courtroom and figure out what to do,” she said. “And there’s nobody there to receive them, there’s no one there to greet them.” According to Miller, some children that come to Chicago are as young as five years old, too short even to see above the bench in a courtroom.

Woltjen thinks there should be other changes, as well. She believes there should be a separate court system for immigrant minors, kind of like juvenile criminal court. Right now, kids are often on the same docket as adults.

Maria Woltjen