Incoherence and inconsistency are hallmarks of the treatment of children in U.S. immigration law. The United States fails to recognize children as individuals with agency and rights. By conspicuously limiting children’s rights in family immigration or by ignoring the procedural rights, developmental differences and vulnerabilities of children in other forms of relief, U.S. immigration law at worst actively undermines children’s rights and at best makes no real attempt to consider or vindicate children’s rights. Children’s voices and interests are lost as immigration law alternately subordinates their interests and needs to those of adults and fails to acknowledge their protection needs.
David B. Thronson
David B. Thronson
US immigration law’s substantive criteria for immigration relief, procedural frameworks and protections, expectations for evidence and proof, allocations of burdens and roles all have been crafted to address the needs and experiences of adults. Children, in this system, are afterthoughts. Even in the few instances where US immigration law focuses directly on children, it fails to shed antiquated and limited notions of children. The existing adult-oriented frameworks provide an inadequate set of responses to shifting patterns of child migration. Flows of child migrants create a challenge for existing US immigration laws and systems which are simply not designed for the arrival of unaccompanied children and multigenerational families without lawful immigration status. Although US immigration law has adapted over time to address other perceived inadequacies or problems in the way in which the law aligned with societal needs or intersected with tumultuous world events, substantive reforms to tailor US immigration law to the experiences and realities of the thousands of migrant children arriving in the United States are conspicuously absent. Unfortunately, this lack of action is consistent with the general disregard for children throughout US immigration law. By failing to develop and tailor immigration law to address the unique experiences of children, especially unaccompanied migrant children, US immigration law leaves children to navigate adult-oriented systems and laws that are not responsive to current patterns of child migration and lack adequate protections for children.