Immigrant Youth and Families

The CFJC Immigration Law Clinic represents low-income immigrants — primarily youth and parents — who are in proceedings to be removed from the United States. We assist young people who entered the country as unaccompanied minors and are seeking to escape gang threats, state-sponsored violence, or domestic neglect and abuse. Our clinic also works to keep families together by representing parents facing deportation and separation from their U.S. citizen and noncitizen children. Like our youth clients, many of these parents fled violence and face returning to dangerous and life-threatening circumstances.

We represent our clients in immigration court proceedings and help them seek humanitarian forms for relief, including asylum, special immigrant juvenile status, relief under the Violence Against Women Act, T (trafficking) nonimmigrant classification, U (crime victim) nonimmigrant classification, and cancellation of removal. Over the years, we have represented youth and parents from many countries, including Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Ethiopia, Jordan, China, Mauritania, Cameroon, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Our work does not stop at the courtroom, however. In partnership with the CFJC’s social work team, we strive to ensure our clients’ basic needs are met — from housing to education to healthcare — so they can participate effectively in their case. For many clients, especially unaccompanied minors, our clinic plays a key role in connecting them to the essential social support services they need to recover from traumatic experiences and rebuild their lives in a new country.

What do Student Lawyers do?

Students play a vital role in the work of the immigration clinic. They interview clients; conduct factual investigations, including interviewing witnesses — most of whom live abroad; draft pleadings and motions; prepare legal briefs; and represent clients at hearings before the Chicago immigration court and various agencies within the Department of Homeland Security.

Our law students have the opportunity to work directly with clients and apply what they have learned in class to real, meaningful cases. The skills they gain through these experiences serve them well regardless of where their future law careers take them.

The clinic also offers students an in-depth look at the complexities of immigration policy and protocols, an issue of heated and ongoing national debate. Through their work with clients, immigration agencies, legal bodies, and social service organizations, students gain a comprehensive, firsthand perspective of the nation’s immigration system.

Example Cases

Street Youth Wins Asylum and Becomes a Legal Permanent Resident after 11 Years  

Manny could barely read or write in English or Spanish when we met him in 2005.  He had spent his childhood on the streets of his home country after being forced from his home due to violence.  Despite his difficult childhood, Manny had a great smile and an enduring faith. After surviving a journey across the U.S. border that nearly cost him his life, Manny was picked up by immigration officers and ended up in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. When we began to work with Manny, we knew he needed both representation and support in rebuilding his life. We first helped him enroll in high school. As soon as Manny got his employment authorization, he began working to support himself.  In 2006, we suffered a stunning loss in Manny’s court case. However, we fought back and stayed with the case for the nine years it took Manny to be granted asylum.  In 2016, Manny took the next step toward becoming a U.S. citizen: he obtained legal permanent resident status. On the day he received his green card, Manny sent this text: “I’m gonna die I’m so happy!”  Manny recently became a new father and was promoted to lead manager at the restaurant where he works. He is still in touch with clinic faculty and staff, who are thrilled to watch him thrive.

Mother Reunites with Her Daughter after Nearly Two Decades of Separation

Belinda, a young widow “inherited” by her dead husband’s abusive relative, fled her home country, leaving her then three-year-old daughter with a family friend.  Belinda planned to bring her daughter as soon as she was safe and settled in the United States. Little did she know that it would take more than 18 years to bring her daughter to the U.S. We took Belinda’s case in 2008 after her pro se application for asylum was denied. We refiled Belinda’s asylum application in immigration court and pursued other forms of relief for her.  Belinda was finally granted temporary relief in 2013, which eventually resulted in a green card in 2014. Belinda filed for her daughter to join her in the U.S. in early 2015.  Belinda was overjoyed when her daughter finally arrived at the airport in November 2018. Belinda’s daughter made it just in time for the holidays and to celebrate her 22nd birthday with her mother.  Belinda sent an email with a video of her reunion with her daughter at the airport.  Her email read, “Thank you, my life has changed; I’m now complete.”