VILLANOVA, Pa. –More than 50,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border into the United States over the past year, seeking safety from violence in their native Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Discussions that will shed light on the gravity of this immigration crisis, the moral and ethical responsibility to address it, and specific actions that can be taken, will be the focal point of an April 9 Villanova University conference titled, “The Path of the Unaccompanied Minor: Examining Legal and Community Responses to a Humanitarian Crisis.”
The conference will be held at The Villanova School of Law, located on the University’s west campus. With sessions starting at 10 a.m. and running until 5:15 p.m., the day-long event is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the Villanova School of Law Clinical Program, the Villanova Partnership with Catholic Relief Services, and Villanova Campus Ministry.
“We have a moral responsibility as a Catholic university and a Catholic school of law to call attention to, educate, and take action on this fundamental human rights and humanitarian crisis,” said Suzanne Toton, EdD, Coordinator, University Partnership with Catholic Relief Services, and an associate professor in Villanova’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies.
She added, “The conference will bring together representatives from the legal, social service, faith and academic communities who work with and represent immigrant children. We will have serious conversations about what can be done to address the violence from organized criminal networks that is compelling these children to flee their home countries, as well as what can be done to provide just and humane social and legal services once the enter this country.”
The conference will draw on the expertise of a variety of speakers who have first-hand experience working with children from the “Northern Triangle” countries of Central America. The various sessions, panels and presentations will trace the path of unaccompanied children through five phases of their journey, from facing violence and hardships in their home country in Central America to assimilating to life in the United States. The phases include: the push factors driving them out of their home countries; the conditions of the detention facilities the children are held in when they reach the United States; the legal obstacles they face when they arrive; the unique challenges they face integrating into U.S. communities; and their fate if deported.
“We have worked hard to plan a program that considers the issue of migration of Central American children from a number of different perspectives,” said Michele Pistone, Professor of Law and Director of the Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES) at the Villanova School of Law. “Children, particularly those who are not with their parents, are defenseless. It is up to us in the community to learn their plight and to speak out on their behalf to make sure their rights are protected and their voices are heard.”
The conference’s opening discussion will include a presentation by Juan Marcelo Ulin Az, a 19-year-old, former unaccompanied minor who fled Guatemala alone at age 16. He now lives in Philadelphia and will graduate from high school in June, the first of his entire family to do so. During a separate morning panel, Juan Sheenan, Catholic Relief Services Country Representative for Honduras, will discuss CRS’ work with youth in Honduras, the struggles they face, and the factors that influence children to flee their country and make the dangerous journey to the United States.
During afternoon sessions, immigration law attorneys who work with children during their legal claims process to stay in the United States will speak about protecting the rights of the immigrant children and the legal framework under which they must operate. The conference will end with a discussion on integration into life in the United States, support systems available for the children, challenges the children will face, and what the community can do to take action and help during this crisis.
Click here for more information about The Path of the Unaccompanied Minor conference.
About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.