Leading Child Welfare Experts Argue in Favor of Legal Protections for Immigrant Youth

More than 50 Law and Social Science Professors and Practitioners Sign Letter to Congressional Leaders

New York, July 24, 2014—More than 50 law and social science experts from around the country have written to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner to speak out against a proposal to eliminate protections for unaccompanied children and youth crossing into the United States from Central America.

The proposal would subject the youth to “an expedited screening process that fails to take into account their youth and vulnerability,” the experts wrote. “This process would be inconsistent with our treatment of children in the U.S. legal system and would set a dangerous precedent for children’s law in the United States.”
Columbia Law School Professor Jane M. Spinak co-authored the letter with Professor Randi Mandelbaum of Rutgers University School of Law – Newark, which lays out the reasons for giving children and youth special protections in legal matters, including: child and adolescent development, the impact of trauma, language and educational barriers, and the need for child-focused screening practices. An expedited screening system—like the one already in place for Mexican unaccompanied children—“is not effective” and “will neither protect these children, nor serve our country’s stated purposes,” letter states.
The experts also argue the expedited screening system for Mexican youth should be eliminated.
Spinak directs Columbia Law School’s Adolescent Representation Clinic and is a leading expert in child welfare policy, juvenile justice, and family court reform, among other topics.
Columbia Law School Professor Elizabeth S. Scott also signed the letter. Her research is interdisciplinary and applies behavioral economics, social science research, and developmental theory to family and juvenile law and policy issues.