Department of Human Services

Human Services Partners with KIND to Provide Free Legal Counsel & Social Services Support to Migrant Children & Youth

New Jersey is home to the fifth largest population of unaccompanied immigrant children in the country

March 22, 2022

(TRENTON) Human Services Acting Commissioner Sarah Adelman today announced that the Department has partnered with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) to provide free legal counsel and social services coordination to migrant children and youth arriving to New Jersey as unaccompanied minors seeking refuge.

The Legal Representation for Children and Youth Program under the Department’s Office of New Americans (ONA) will be administered by KIND, a nationally recognized nongovernmental organization devoted to the protection of unaccompanied and separated children.

Migrant children and youth seeking protection in the U.S. do not have the right to appointed counsel in immigration court.  The program will provide free expert legal counsel to unaccompanied immigrant children and youth at risk of deportation who lack access to legal counsel for immigration and court proceedings. The program will also support unaccompanied immigrant children and youth in need of social services coordination as they make New Jersey their home. Social services support connects children to essential medical care, mental health services, education, and other services to help them integrate into their communities, and improve their socio-emotional, health, and educational outcomes. The Governor’s proposed FY 2023 budget maintains the $3 million in funding to continue to support these critical services.

“Many of these children and youth lack financial resources to afford legal representation and are in need of legal defense to represent them in immigration court and related agency and state court proceedings as they seek legal status. Providing access to counsel helps ensure due process, increases the likelihood of success in individual cases, and promotes family unity and stability,” Acting Commissioner Adelman said.

KIND will provide these services in partnership with five other organizations providing legal services across New Jersey. In addition, the New Jersey Consortium of Immigrant Children, a coalition of allied professionals – including healthcare, mental health, and social workers – and legal advocates for immigrant children and youth will be responsible for responding to client inquiries and connecting potential clients with the attorneys and social workers at these organizations.

“KIND applauds the Department of Human Services’ landmark creation of this program to fund legal and social services for unaccompanied children and similarly situated youth,” KIND President Wendy Young said. “An attorney often means the difference between a child’s safety or return to danger.  Since 2009, KIND has been dedicated to serving unaccompanied immigrant children in New Jersey communities.  We look forward to our partnership with the New Jersey Consortium for Immigrant Children and legal service providers across the state to ensure that immigrant children can access legal representation, healthcare, and other essential services.”

Individuals seeking immigration legal assistance for an unaccompanied child or youth under age 21 can call 201-305-9217 or email uacscreening@njcic.org for an eligibility assessment.

New Jersey is among the five states with the highest number of unaccompanied minors. An unaccompanied child is defined by U.S. law as someone under the age of 18 years old who enters the United States seeking safety, without immigration status or an accompanying parent or legal guardian. Since FY 2015, over 20,000 unaccompanied children have been connected to family members or relatives in New Jersey, with around 6,000 arriving in the past year. 

 “Migrant children and youth arriving to the United States have faced significant trauma fleeing from war, gang violence and abuse. We are glad we can provide expert legal representation at no cost, and provide essential social and emotional service coordination as they adjust to life in our state,” Deputy Commissioner Elisa Neira said.

“Unfortunately, immigration legal proceedings do not provide representation to anyone, including children. No child should have to face that process without the proper legal counsel and support. We are grateful for this partnership and look forward to working with KIND to ensure these children have access to professional legal representation, as well as the social services they will need to thrive,” ONA Director Johanna Calle said.

ONA was established within the Department to advance immigrant integration and welcoming strategies in New Jersey by empowering immigrants throughout the state, in part through access to reliable legal representation to promote family unification and stability.