Home News Center Virginia Youth Justice Advocates Fight to Protect Immigrant Youth

Virginia Youth Justice Advocates Fight to Protect Immigrant Youth

November 14, 2018
Alyson Clements

We have seen renewed efforts to criminalize youth simply due to their immigration status.  From youth being arrested at school and pushed into deportation hearings, an uptick in gang classifications of young people, and the separation and detention of youth at the border; immigrant youth are being pushed into detention and deportation at increased numbers.  Recognizing, that immigrant youth are being increasingly criminalized for their existence in the United states, NJJN advocates, Legal Aid Justice Center and RISE for Youth located in Virginia have been hard at work to safeguard immigrant youth.

As YJLI Alum and RISE for Youth Executive Director Valerie Slater stated, “separating families and locking up young people is nothing new in this country.  Current immigration policies are just echoes of our country’s outdated, ineffective and cruel juvenile justice practices. Kids should be with their families.” Recognizing that youth in the justice system and immigrant youth in Virginia are both housed in the same facility, Shenandoah Valley, which has faced abuse allegations, RISE for Youth has partnered with New Virginia Majority to ensure all youth are afforded the opportunity to grow up supported by their families.

At the same time Legal Aid Justice Center, which provides direct services, and also specializes in strategic litigation in addition to policy advocacy, has been working with a host of partner organizations to protect immigrant youth and families.  This work has included winning a DOJ settlement that granted 1,000 parents the right to have their asylum claims reheard.  Additionally, LAJC’s JustChildren program advocates for the Department of Juvenile Justice Board to ensure that any detention centers under the purview of DJJ that also contract to house immigrant youth must adhere to DJJ regulatory standards and allow state access to these youth and their files.  LAJC has also been active in the De-ICE Virginia Campaign, which has been working to pressure counties to no longer honor ICE requests to hold immigrants serving a sentence imposed by a judge past their scheduled release dates.

Becky Wolozin, an attorney with LAJC’s Immigrant Advocacy Program summed it up simply “we’ve seen a significant increase in the criminalization of immigrant youth for reasons as simple as crossing the border. We often talk about youth in the justice system as those in facilities, and immigrant youth as those who have crossed the border, but the truth is we are locking up all these youth.  It’s our job, to fight for them all.”

To learn more about how your state can ensure immigrant youth are protected, check out NJJN’s Policy Platform: Supporting Immigrant Youth Caught in the Crosshairs of the Justice System.

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