Maria Woltjen, Director of The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago Law School, will be honored with the Ruth Goldman Award given by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy on Thursday, July 18, at the ACS Legal Legends Luncheon. ACS is a national organization of progressive lawyers, policymakers, judges and law students dedicated to the principles of respect for human dignity, protection of individual rights and liberties, genuine equality, and access to justice. Each year, the chapter presents the Ruth Goldman Award to honor one woman who has made significant contributions to advance the state of women in the legal profession and the goals of ACS.
“In the face of a public dialogue about immigration that is plagued with distrust and misunderstanding, Maria has insisted on modeling leadership through respect, compassion, and tolerance,” said Elizabeth Frankel, Associate Director of The Young Center. In 2003, Ms. Woltjen founded The Young Center with a fierce and steadfast commitment to protecting the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children – children who enter the United States without a parent or guardian. Despite the common recognition that children do not have the same capacity as adults, unaccompanied immigrant children are required to meet the same procedural, evidentiary, and legal rules as adults, though many enter immigration court alone, as legal representation is not a guaranteed right for them. The Young Center ensures that the best interests of children escaping abuse, violence and poverty are considered when making decisions about their status. It is estimated that in 2013, immigration authorities will apprehend more than 26,000 unaccompanied immigrant children.
The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights is a champion for the best interests of children who arrive in the United States on their own, from all corners of the world. The Young Center serves as trusted allies for these children by accompanying them through court proceedings, advocating for their best interests, and standing for the creation of a dedicated juvenile immigrant justice system that ensures the safety and well-being of every child. The Young Center provides Child Advocates for individual children – free of charge – to ensure that the children’s voices are heard and their best interests are considered when making decisions that will impact the rest of their lives.