Young Center 2018 Annual Report

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As early as spring of 2017, we saw an increase in cases where U.S. immigration authorities separated children from their parents at the border. Though I couldn’t imagine it happening, on April 6, 2018, the administration announced that it would separate all children from their parents. During that period, under the zero-tolerance policy, more than 2,737 children were separated from their families. Their heartbreaking stories made headlines around the world. Despite a federal court order halting family separations in June 2018, the Department of Homeland Security continues to take children from their parents. The fallout, trauma, and pain are unimaginable.

The number of children arriving on their own remains high. In 2018, more than 50,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the border. Many reported witnessing or experiencing violence. Thanks to your support, we have been able to add staff to take more cases and advocate for more children. We now have 65 staff in eight offices across the country. We’ve achieved our goal of hiring social workers in every office. We’ve also expanded our policy team, allowing the Young Center to more effectively advocate for change at the national level.

We have made so much progress. Fifteen years ago, immigration judges, asylum officers, and enforcement officials had no conception of best interests or what a Child Advocate was. Today, that’s changed. Judges ask for Child Advocates. Asylum officers accept best interests recommendations. Periodically, we receive requests for Child Advocates from ICE. And they’re listening.

Our work is far from over. As of December 2018, nearly 15,000 unaccompanied children were in federal custody. This is roughly double the number of children in custody just a year prior. In addition, the protections afforded to unaccompanied and separated children through the anti-trafficking law and the Flores Settlement Agreement are under constant attack.

Despite these extraordinarily difficult times, the Young Center is stronger than ever, and we remain steadfast in our mission to fight for the rights and best interests of vulnerable immigrant children. We will continue to work with our allies to safeguard protections in the law. We will invest in bringing international accountability for family separation.

I don’t have answers to the larger questions about immigration, but when it comes to children, the answer is simple—if a child lands on our doorstep, we have the responsibility to make sure they will be safe and cared for. Thank you for supporting us in this urgent work.


Maria Woltjen
Founder and Executive Director
Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

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Young Center’s Journey

In 2004, the Young Center was a one-person organization founded and staffed entirely by Maria Woltjen. We ended 2018 with 65 staff members across eight offices.

Interdisciplinary Work

Since the Young Center’s inception, one of our goals was to integrate social work into every aspect of our work. In 2018, thanks to your generous support, we were able to hire a social worker at each Young Center office.

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Program Updates

The Young Center is the only organization in the nation that provides independent Child Advocates for unaccompanied and separated immigrant children. This year, with the support of donors across the country, we were able to add staff and increase our capacity to assign Child Advocates to many more unaccompanied and separated children.

Policy Updates

Amid intensified attacks on immigrant children and families in 2018, we defended the laws that safeguard children’s rights, built partnerships with children’s advocates, increased our allies on the Hill, and expanded our international policy work.

The Young Center’s work for unaccompanied and separated immigrant children is made possible largely by the contributions of tens of thousands of passionate supporters. Thank you for supporting us in this urgent work.