Thursday, December 13, 2012

Immigration and Child Welfare Clinician-Scholars Featured at the Hofstra Symposium on Immigrants and the Family Court

As previously announced on this blog, Theo Liebmann and Lauris Wren at Hofstra Law School put together a fantastic symposium on Immigrants and the Family Court, which was timed with the release of a special issue of the Family Court Review published by Wiley-Blackwell in conjunction with the symposium.  The special issue and the symposium featured a number of immigration and child welfare clinicians whose scholarly work has brought much-needed attention to what Theo and Lauris dubbed, "unique challenges presented by working with families and children who are immigrants - both documented and undocumented - and the complex interplay between immigration issues and the family court's obligations to serve the families and children who come before it." 

Braving post-Sandy clean-up and gas rationing, the symposium drew an impressive number and diversity of participants, including representatives from stakeholders in the immigration, family justice and child welfare systems as well as advocates, scholars and journalists.  The day opened with a keynote address by The Honorable Edwina G. Richardson-Mendelson, the Administrative Judge of the New York City Family Court.  The first two panels focused on the basics of immigration law for family law practitioners and improving how family courts serve immigrant youth and families.  The latter panel, moderated by Veronica Thronson, Director of the Immigration Law Clinic at Michigan State, featured Bernard Perlmutter, Co-Director of the Children & Youth Law Clinic at U Miami and Jennifer Baum, Director of the Child Advocacy Clinic at St. John's.  Veronica's article, "'Til Death Do Us Part: Affidavits of Support and Obligations to Immigrant Spouses" and Jennifer's article, "Most in Need But Least Served: Legal and Practical Barriers to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status for Federally Detained Minors" were both featured in the special issue.  The afternoon concluded with a panel on collateral immigration consequences of family court proceedings and featured Associate Professor of Clinical Law, Dan Smulian who teaches the Safe Harbor Project at Brooklyn Law. 

The afternoon featured two panels addressing how undocumented status affects children and families and the future of special immigrant juvenile status.  I was excited to present my article, "Unintended and Unavoidable: The Failure to Protect Rule and Its Consequences for Undocumented Parents and their Children" on an interdisciplinary panel featuring a journalist and a sociologist.  Journalist Seth Freed Wessler whose groundbreaking report, "Shattered Families" is so regularly relied upon by legal scholars, and Jorge M. Chavez, a sociology professor at Bowling Green State University whose research focuses on the impact of unauthorized status on children's well-being, presented their work.  Jorge's findings about the adverse impact of undocumented status on family stress, health outcomes, and educational attainment, may prove useful in future legal scholarship on this issue.  The second panel featured two clinicians, Alison Kamhi, Clinical Teaching Fellow in the Immigrant Rights' Clinic at Stanford and Randi Mandelbaum, Director of the Child Advocacy Clinic at Rutgers-Newark.  Alison co-wrote the SIJ article with Jennifer for the special issue, which also featured Randi's article, "Disparate Outcomes: The Quest for Uniform Treatment of Immigrant Children."

The highlight of the symposium was the closing session.  Closing remarks delivered by a leading scholar on the intersection of immigration and family law, David Thronson, co-founder of the Immigration Law Clinic at Michigan State, focused on how immigration law and policy actively devalues children who are defined mainly by their relationship to adults.  Howard Davidson of the American Bar Association presented best-practices for improving the experience of undocumented immigrants in family courts and the child welfare system, offering some pragmatic solutions for policy makers and advocates.  But the star of the session was a formerly undocumented teen who, along with Lauren Burke - a staff attorney at the New York Asian Women's Center, gave a beautiful and touching spoken word performance from the perspective of an undocumented youth trying to find her way out of an abusive household despite the odds of the immigration system being stacked against her.  The performance highlighted the work of Atlas: DIY, a cooperative empowerment center for immigrant youth and their allies.  

Check out all of the articles, including a note about ethical advocacy for immigrant survivors of family crisis by Theo Liebmann, at the Wiley Online Library.  The full agenda, including additional presentations by staff attorneys and advocates in the field, is available here.

-- Sarah Rogerson

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