USCRI: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

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Delegation Travels to El Salvador to Address the Needs of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children


USCRI's Tiffany Nelms and an official from El Salvador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs discuss migrant children during a 2012 trip to the country.

Alone. Tired. Confused. Hopeful. Every year, thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America and Mexico attempt to cross the US border and are overwhelmed by the range of emotions they experience. Traveling dangerously on the tops of trains, by bus, or on foot, migrant children are fleeing gang violence, persecution, and abusive homes. Others are hoping to join a parent already living in the U.S. or arrive in search of economic opportunity. Most unaccompanied immigrant children are boys between the ages of 15-17, but children as young as five-years old are increasingly turning up at the border—hidden by smugglers and traffickers.

Crossing the border without a parent or legal guardian is far from easy—many immigrant children are severely injured, physically abused, or witness unthinkable violence during their journeys. Children routinely underestimate the risk of traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border; so as the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border has doubled in the past year, migration awareness and the provision of services to repatriated children have emerged as protection mechanisms.

Experts and practitioners from the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) recently traveled to El Salvador to conduct migration awareness and repatriation workshops. The delegation—led by USCRI’s Vice President and CFO, Lee Williams—spearheaded meetings with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education, and Child Protective Services, as well as community leaders and local organizations. The workshops addressed strategies for migration awareness and offered concrete guidance on how stakeholders in El Salvador can best meet the needs of kids repatriated back home, since many of the children who are returned require counseling, educational support, health care, and community integration. In addition to conducting workshops, USCRI visited shelters where repatriated children are sheltered and had the opportunity to speak with service providers about their needs.

Since 2006, USCRI has been protecting unaccompanied immigrant children before and after their journeys to the border. USCRI coordinates pro bono legal assistance and social services for migrant children facing deportation proceedings—these children aren’t provided an attorney by the U.S. Government and are often deported without being able to make their claims for asylum or family reunification. Said USCRI’s Lee Williams, “Protecting migrant children doesn’t stop at the US border. At USCRI, we are committed to addressing children’s needs both in the US immigration system and in their home countries.”

How You Can Help

Provide pro bono legal services: USCRI needs more attorneys to volunteer their time representing unaccompanied immigrant children. You do not need experience in immigration law. Contact Stacy at

Offer mental health services: If you are a licensed mental health practitioner in the United States and would like to volunteer your services, please contact Tiffany at

Donate: Fund USCRI’s pro bono network and migration awareness workshops. Donate now >>

Director of el Consejo Nacional de la Niñez y Adolescencia (CONNA), Zaira Navas; Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Juan Jose Garcia; and USCRI's President & CFO, Lee Williams.



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