By Wendy Young
Wendy Young, Executive Director of KIND
Kids in Need of Defense or KIND was kicked off last October with the announcement that movie actress Angelina Jolie had teamed with computer software maker Microsoft to create a unique non-governmental organization that provided pro bono legal counsel to the thousands of immigrant children who find themselves alone in immigration courts across the country.
Scared, confused, and many times, traumatized by their experiences, these children, from under ten to teenagers, find themselves in the midst of very adult situations within the U.S. legal court system without a clue as to how to defend themselves and explain why it was important that they come to the United States.
Seeing the injustice in subjecting these children to these kinds of proceedings alone, KIND was created to defend and speak on behalf of these children. Now, KIND has an official spokesperson and her name is Wendy Young.
Ms. Young is the new founding executive director of KIND. With a background in immigration and refugee policy, Ms. Young is passionate about championing the rights of defenseless immigrant children and explains KIND’s mission and her hopes for the future treatment of these children.
As we prepare for the Inauguration of our nationâ€™s first African American President, many of us are pausing to reflect on the true meaning of this historic event. From our earliest roots as a nation, the United States has represented a place where people of all ages, incomes and backgrounds come in the hope of finding shelter from poverty, war, and persecution and building a new life for themselves.
The most vulnerable among these are unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children. Every year, more than 8,000 unaccompanied immigrant children arrive in America seeking protection, freedom and safety from the indignities of abuse, mistreatment, torture and even human trafficking that they have been forced to endure.
They come to the United States seeking its promise of a better life, yet the majority of these children â€“ possessing limited education and English skills â€“ become lost, traumatized, impoverished and ultimately forgotten.
Many of these immigrant children are apprehended and routed through the U.S. immigration system, where they face trained government attorneys and judges alone, as the U.S. government provides no appointed counsel for unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings. Without counsel, they are ill-equipped to understand the procedures they face and the options that may be available to them under the law.
Too often, viable claims for protection and relief are poorly articulated, or not presented at all. As a result, thousands are deported to the countries they fled, where they are left homeless or trapped in abusive living environments â€“ or are killed.
It is this injustice that KIND â€“ Kids in Need of Defense â€“ seeks to remedy, by providing pro bono legal counsel to unaccompanied immigrant children in the U.S. to ensure that they are treated fairly and compassionately in our immigration system.
KINDâ€™s growing network of law firms, corporate law departments, philanthropists, foundations and non-governmental organizations is rallying strong support behind this cause. Since our organizational launch last October, KIND has added 14 new law firms and over 4,000 pro bono hours in volunteer commitments to our nationwide legal network, now totaling 37 law firms and two corporate law departments providing over 17,000 hours of pro bono services.
We have also established regional pro bono coordinators in the cities of New York, Newark, Houston, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., to recruit, train, supervise and mentor the programâ€™s volunteer attorneys, in addition to funding fellowships to leading non-profits to provide direct representation to unaccompanied children.
Alex and Carlos, two young brothers from Mexico, are examples of the type of story our volunteer attorneys encounter every day. When these children arrived in the U.S., abandoned by their family, the then four-year-old Alex was struggling to care for his two-year-old sibling before being placed into state foster care.
Thanks to the efforts of a volunteer attorney who donated legal counsel, Alex and Carlos officially became legal permanent residents on December 17th through the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status program.
KINDâ€™s goal for 2009 is to ensure that over 1,000 children have trained and talented volunteer counsel to zealously advocate in immigration proceedings on their behalf and to increase that number over the next three years until 100 percent of unaccompanied immigrant children have legal representation.
In the new administration, KIND remains committed to collaborating with all relevant stakeholders, from leading NGOs to Congress and the executive branch, to ensure the robust implementation of legislative, regulatory and policy reforms to protect unaccompanied children and facilitate their pro bono representation.
As Americans witness the hope that Inauguration Day represents, KIND will endeavor to include immigrant children in that groundswell so that they too can share in the American dream.