Local Challenges, State and National Solutions

Many of the access to justice issues we face in the Chicago area require action on the state or federal level to resolve. Working with many dedicated partners on the local, state and national levels, the CBF’s advocacy and community leadership extends well beyond the borders of Cook County, along with its impact.

A good example is the Illinois Task Force on Unaccompanied Immigrant Children. Hundreds of these children are taken into custody by the immigration authorities each year and placed in the Chicago area while their cases are pending, and they face a variety of unique challenges in the justice system. The CBF and the National Immigrant Justice Center established the Task Force in 1999 to bring together key stakeholders in the Chicago area to address these larger systemic issues.

The Task Force includes policymakers, government officials, academics, representatives of legal aid and social service organizations, and a cross-section of Chicago’s legal community, including attorneys at major law firms, representatives from the organized bar, and others who work in the field of juvenile and immigration law.

The Task Force initially played a lead role in a national legislative effort to overhaul the federal system responsible for unaccompanied minors in immigration custody. This effort met with a partial but very significant success in 2002 when Congress passed the Homeland Security Act, which transferred responsibility for the care and custody of these children from the Department of Homeland Security to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), an agency with vast experience and expertise handling cases involving refugee children. The Task Force also played a key role in the advocacy efforts that helped persuade Congress to improve the protections for unaccompanied immigrant minors when it passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.

In addition, the Task Force led the charge on a successful amendment to the Illinois Juvenile Court Act that bridged an unintended but significant gap in the way  federal immigration law interacts with  the State’s juvenile justice law. The Task Force also recruits pro bono attorneys to represent children, helped launch a groundbreaking pilot project to provide trained child advocates for these minors, and works with the courts, relevant government agencies and other stakeholders to address systemic barriers so that these children are protected.

More recently, the Task Force has reconvened in response to the Department of Homeland Security’s misguided family separation policy at the border earlier this year, and the additional challenges that has created for children placed in the Chicago area and beyond.