Children and Family Justice Center

CFJC NEWS: A Beacon of Hope for Asylum Seekers

uzoThe current issue of Northwestern Magazine shines a spotlight on CFJC’s Uzoamaka Emeka Nzelibe’s tireless work on behalf of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum — decisions that for many of those young people could mean the difference between life and death. “A Beacon of Hope for Asylum Seekers,” describes Uzo's own immigration story, the current immigration situation, and the incredible amount of work, dedication, and passion that Uzo has brought and continues to bring to her clients at the CFJC.

"In these times, especially, I am so grateful that the CJFC is able to provide unparalleled representation for those seeking justice in the immigration system through the tireless work of Uzo, our Immigration Law Fellow Amy Martin, our social work and administrative staff, and our exceptional students," said CFJC Director Julie  Biehl.



A different kind of winter break in Mexico

An eye-opening experience helping migrants understand the asylum process.

During winter break, CFJC attorneys Uzoamaka Emeka Nzelibe and Amy Martin led a dozen Northwestern Law students to Tijuana, Mexico, where they helped asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The stories that I heard at the border were consistent with my experience working with Central American migrants here in Chicago,” adds Nzelibe, who represents asylum-seekers once they’ve entered the United States. “It’s so different from this idea that people are coming in as gang members or they're purely coming for economic reasons. A lot of the people we talked to described situations of extreme violence, and being afraid to go back to their country because of this extreme violence.”

Read more about their experiences as recently reported by the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

How Anthony Gay was freed from the torture of solitary confinement in Illinois prisons


As a teenager, Anthony Gay stole a hat and $1 from a young man who had insulted Anthony’s sister. While on probation, Anthony got into more trouble and was sent to prison. That was the beginning of his dissent into years of solitary confinement, which left him suicidal and caused him to cut himself often in horrific self-mutilations.

His mental condition fueled actions against guards that resulted in more time in solitary confinement and new criminal charges – enough to expand his prison sentence from the original seven years to 108 years.

Anthony Gay appeared destined to spend the rest of his life in prison, but his plight gained the attention of CFJC’s Scott Main and other lawyers who recognized the lengthy sentence was unfair and convinced a state’s attorney and the court to take decades off the sentence.

Late last year, Anthony Gay was able to leave prison and return to his family with CFJC’s help.

Please take a few minutes to read Anthony’s story — both heartbreaking and heartwarming — and learn why the state’s treatment of Anthony was so unfair and inhumane and how Scott Main and others were able to help free him from the torture.

Illinois girls are being sent to prison for less serious offenses and with less delinquency history than boys


The fourth installment of CFJC’s series Community Safety & the Future of Illinois’ Youth Prisons draws upon discussions with youth and staff, as well as research and data, analyzing recently-increased admissions of girls to IDJJ and unreliable official data on incarcerated LGBTQ youth.

“Currently, girls are being incarcerated in Illinois for less serious offenses and with less delinquency history than boys, while little is known about the experience of LGBTQ youth in IDJJ," according to "Illinois' Incarcerated Girls and LGBTQ Youth.” The report notes the finding is "further proof of the devastating impact of cutting community programs, played out in the lives of some of the state’s most vulnerable young people."

Inside this issue:

  • The number of girls admitted to IDJJ increased by 81% between FY17 and FY18, despite an overall decline in IDJJ admissions during this period.
  • 80% of incarcerated girls were adjudicated for a Class 2 felony or lower offense.
  • Every single girl in IDJJ custody has at least two mental health diagnoses and most have experienced significant trauma.
  • Illinois’ community-based youth services, including mental health care, have suffered significant cuts and closures, which may be affecting girls’ prison admission rates.
  • Evidence suggests that LGBTQ youth are significantly overrepresented in IDJJ, which struggles to maintain a supportive environment despite significant improvements.

The series of reports is the result of a multi-year research endeavor by the Children and Family Justice Center.  The research included interviews with a wide variety of policymakers, a survey of over 150 stakeholders, the collection and analysis of data about the state’s justice system, and an extensive review of academic and practitioner research. The series will culminate in a detailed set of recommendations, consistent with calls from researchers and practitioners nationwide, for a five-year plan to end Illinois’ use of large, adult-modeled prisons for youth and to expand alternatives to incarceration. Find each installment on our Youth In Custody section. 

About the Children and Family Justice Center

Founded in 1992, the Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC) is a comprehensive children's law office and part of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. At the CFJC, attorneys and law students work together to promote justice for children, adolescents, and their families through direct legal representation, policy advocacy and law reform. More...