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Representing Unaccompanied Children in California: Legal Updates and Strategies for Pursuing Relief 2021

Speaker(s): Ana Moraga Archila, Cecilia Candia, Christina Avalos, Christine Lin, Iris J. Franco, Jose Ortiz-Rosales, MSW, Katie Annand, Kristen M. Jackson, Matthew Weisner, Melissa Adamson, Michael Hagerty, Misha Seay, Rachel Prandini, Reena Arya, Yliana Johansen-Mendez
Recorded on: Nov. 15, 2021
PLI Program #: 336275

Ana Moraga Archila is a Senior Attorney at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) where she supervises the Bay Area team and represents unaccompanied minors in removal proceedings. Earlier this year Ana had the opportunity to supervise KIND Seattle’s detained team. Ana’s interest in the law was awakened through her experience as co-founder of the organization MuJER- Mujeres por la Justicia, Educación y el Reconocimiento (Women for Justice, Education and Awareness). Ana served as MuJER’s Executive Director. She developed spaces of personal and political empowerment with Central American women sex workers and advocated for policies to end violence against women in Guatemala.

Ana’s work with the immigrant community is sustained by a combination of love and resistance practices, including her involvement in the Afro-Brazilian martial art of Capoeira. Ana received her J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law, is a member of the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative and the California State Bar.

Christine Lin is Director of Training and Technical Assistance at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) at UC Hastings College of the Law. She received the Legal Aid Association of California’s 2017 Award of Merit for Legal Services Attorney. Previously, she co-taught and supervised the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic at UC Hastings. Before joining CGRS, Christine served as the Legal Director of Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre and co-taught refugee legal assistance clinics at the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Prior to her time in Hong Kong, she represented clients at an immigration law firm in San Francisco. Through the Attorney General’s Honors Program, Christine began her legal career as a Judicial Law Clerk/Attorney Advisor with the U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review, at the Los Angeles Immigration Court. Christine holds a J.D. from American University, Master of International Affairs from Columbia University, and bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College.

Iris graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a degree in Biological Sciences and a Minor in Criminology, Law and Society. Iris is an alum of Western State College of Law, in Fullerton, California. During her 2L and 3L year, Iris participated in the Western State Immigration Clinic filing U-Visas, DACAs, Affirmative Asylum applications, T-visas, Adjustment of Status applications and a SIJS petition. Iris also participated in the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) through Public Counsel and Public Law Center at the James A. Musiak Facility, helping screen detainees for possible immigration relief. In 2014, during her last semester of law school, Iris interned at the KIND Los Angeles office and realized that that working with unaccompanied children would be her dream job. After taking the bar, Iris joined the KIND Los Angeles office as part-time Program Assistant while also working part-time at the Law Office of Belen T. Gomez, a firm that concentrated on family and humanitarian-based immigration matters. In early 2015, Iris’ officially joined the KIND Los Angeles team as a staff attorney and is currently a Supervising Attorney on the team. Iris is also a mixed media artist and an avid Disney fan.

José Ortiz-Rosales is a Social Worker in the Young Center Los Angeles office. He received his master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California. Jose has nine years of experience working exclusively with unaccompanied children across the country in various capacities and at different stages in their immigration journey in the United States. Jose has collaborated and partnered with immigration attorneys to provide client-centered legal services focusing on assisting unaccompanied children navigate their immigration case. In 2018, Jose coauthored a book chapter that discussed the multidimensional lives of unaccompanied children in the U.S. and the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to supporting them when they encounter various systems such as child welfare, education, delinquency, criminal justice, behavioral health, immigration, and social systems, among others. Most recently, Jose serves as a Child Advocate for unaccompanied children that are under the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Katie Annand is the Managing Attorney of the San Francisco and Fresno offices of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).  KIND represents unaccompanied children and youth in removal proceedings through direct representation and pro bono mentorship.  Katie leads trainings for pro bono attorneys, partner organizations, and the community on representing unaccompanied children, incorporating a trauma informed lens and cultural responsiveness.  Katie joined KIND in February 2016 after running a successful solo practice specializing in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a form of legal relief for undocumented children abused, abandoned or neglected.  Katie also worked as a volunteer and staff attorney with the Immigration Center for Women and Children, where she represented clients seeking SIJS and U visas, and as an associate with Reed Smith, LLP in the commercial litigation and financial services groups.  Katie is a graduate of University of California, Hastings College of Law, and of Wesleyan University, where she majored in anthropology and international relations.  Katie is licensed to practice in the state of California, and she is fluent in Spanish.

Kristen Jackson is a senior staff attorney in Public Counsel’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. She has expertise in asylum and children’s immigration issues, including special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) and the intersection of immigration and juvenile justice. Kristen has litigated SIJS issues in state and federal court and is co-counsel in federal litigation to protect children’s right to seek asylum before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She has authored numerous publications, including a practice advisory on suppression and termination strategies for children, and she taught the asylum clinic at UCLA School of Law for over a decade. Kristen clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after receiving her J.D. from Yale Law School.

Matthew Gilbert Weisner is the Directing Attorney at the Immigration Project of the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, Inc. Mr. Weisner received his J.D. from UC Davis School of Law and his B.A. with High Honors from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was admitted to the California Bar in 2013, and previously worked as the Supervising Immigration Attorney at Catholic Charities of the East Bay and as a Senior Immigration Attorney with the Central American Resource Center of Northern California (CARECEN SF). As an immigration attorney, Mr. Weisner has represented over a hundred unaccompanied minors in a variety of affirmative and defensive casework, including asylum, special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS), U-Visa, T-Visa, family-based visa petitions, and other immigration remedies. Mr. Weisner has represented unaccompanied minors before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), and family and probate courts in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa, and Alameda counties. He served as American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) NorCal co-liaison to the San Francisco Asylum Office from 2018-2020 and was a featured panelist at the 2020 AILA National Conference on Immigration Law. In his free time, Mr. Weisner likes to listen to podcasts and hike in the Santa Cruz redwoods with his wife.

Michael Hagerty has dedicated his career to assisting undocumented and refugee youth in obtaining immigration relief. He joined Bet Tzedek in 2021 as a Kinship Care/SIJS Attorney to addresses the needs of unaccompanied children whose needs include the appointment of a legal guardian here in the United States as well as immigration counsel.

Bet Tzedek’s Kinship Care Project provides caregivers with legal advice and representation to formalize, via legal guardianship, the child-rearing they provide and address the specific obstacles they face as caregivers. Without legal assistance, caregivers often face difficulty authorizing medical care, are unable to adequately advocate for the child, and lack authority to protect the child from abusive or neglectful parents. With a team of attorneys dedicated to representing youth in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) matters, the Project also provides direct representation to abused, neglected, and abandoned children as they seek SIJS relief at the state and federal levels, including representing children in guardianship proceedings.

Prior to Bet Tzedek, Michael worked for five years as a Pro Bono Coordinating Attorney at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) in Los Angeles. His practice there centered on providing expert mentorship/guidance in immigration matters to non-immigration-practitioners who had taken on the representation of unaccompanied children on a pro bono basis. As such he dedicated much of his time and energy to educating lawyers via in-person and online trainings on a wide array of legal topics relating to the representation of undocumented youth, including SIJS, Asylum, Guardianships, Family Court Proceedings, and representation of children before the immigration court and United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS).

Michael began his legal career in 2013 as a Thomas L. Shaffer fellow at Public Counsel in Los Angeles. His practice at that time consisted of the representation of “dreamers” seeking Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and of youth in the juvenile justice system who sought immigration relief via SIJS. Later, as a staff attorney, he began to work primarily with recently arrived unaccompanied children in guardianship and family court based SIJS matters.

During law school, Michael worked as an extern with the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, and with the Notre Dame Economic Justice Clinic, a clinical program focusing on consumer law issues, primarily as they relate to housing. He received his B.A. in History and Spanish from Williams College and his J.D. from Notre Dame Law School. He is an avid, if inept, student of the banjo and fiddle, and if this program had taken place in person, he likely would have ridden to it on his bicycle.

Misha is a Managing Attorney at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA), where she has worked since 2015. Her current work focuses on a mix of deportation defense and affirmative matters, with an ongoing focus on children’s cases and criminal-immigration issues. At the start of her time at CLSEPA, Misha worked with the San Francisco Immigration Court to create and launch a juvenile docket for children in removal proceedings as part of an Equal Justice Works fellowship sponsored by the Morrison & Foerster Foundation. Prior to joining CLSEPA, Misha served as a Staff Attorney at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at UC Hastings College of the Law. She also worked as an Attorney Advisor at the San Francisco Immigration Court. Misha received her J.D. from UC Hastings College of the Law and an MSc in Human Rights from the London School of Economics. She is a member of the Advisory Council of the AILA NorCal chapter and serves as co-liaison for EOIR in San Francisco.

Rachel Prandini is the ILRC’s immigrant youth project attorney based in San Francisco. Rachel focuses on immigrant youth issues, including unaccompanied minors and immigrant youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Rachel provides technical assistance and trainings to immigration and state court attorneys, social workers, and judges. She works on statewide and national policy that affects the rights of immigrant youth and is frequently consulted for her expertise in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Rachel co-authored the ILRC’s publication Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and Other Immigration Options for Children and Youth.

Prior to joining the ILRC, Rachel represented detained and released unaccompanied minors in removal defense and led a project focusing on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status at Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project in Los Angeles. While at Esperanza, Rachel also performed "Know Your Rights" work in southern California immigration detention centers for minors. Previously, Rachel worked as an associate at Paul Hastings, LLP and volunteered as a Child Advocate for unaccompanied minors.

Rachel earned her law degree from the University of California at Davis, where she was a member of the Immigration Law Clinic and was fortunate to work on complex deportation defense cases and detention issues. She received her undergraduate degree from Westmont College, where she double-majored in philosophy and political science. Rachel is admitted to the bar in California. She is conversant in Spanish.

Cecilia Candia is a Senior Immigration Attorney at Central American Resource Center of Northern California (CARECEN SF) where she represents children and families in removal proceedings before the San Francisco Immigration Court. Prior to CARECEN SF, Cecilia was the Associate Legal Director at Legal Services for Children, where she worked with children in custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and the Immigration Program Coordinator and Immigration Attorney at La Raza Centro Legal in San Francisco. She served as American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) NorCal co-liaison to the San Francisco Asylum Office from 2019 to 2021. Cecilia received her J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law and is a member of the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

Christina (she/her/ella) is a Staff Attorney with the Central American Resource Center (CARE) in Los Angeles where she represents unaccompanied minors and adults in removal proceedings. Prior to joining CARECEN, she was a Skadden Fellow with the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) where she represented both detained and non-detained immigrants in their removal proceedings. Christina has interned and volunteered for organizations such as the CARA Pro Bono Project, Centro Legal de la Raza, the ACLU of Southern California Immigrants’ Rights Project, Al Otro Lado, and the Los Angeles County Public Defender-Immigration Unit. Prior to law school, Christina work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). She is a graduate of UCLA School of Law, with a specialization in Critical Race Studies and Public Interest Law & Policy. 

Melissa Adamson is an attorney on NCYL’s Immigration and Legal Advocacy teams. Adamson works on immigrant youth issues, including litigation on behalf of detained unaccompanied minors, federal and state advocacy, and policy work on behalf of immigrant youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Adamson earned her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, where she represented youth in delinquency proceedings and expulsion hearings through the Education Defense and Justice for Youth Clinic at the East Bay Community Law Center and interned at Legal Services for Children and the Bay Area Legal Aid San Francisco Medical-Legal Partnership.

Reena Arya is a Supervising Attorney with the International Programs at KIND.  She was formally a Staff Attorney in KIND's San Francisco office where she provided direct representation to children. Previously, Reena was a Training and Legal Support Senior Attorney with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, where she provided technical assistance and trainings to CLINIC affiliate agencies around the country. Reena was also an Asylum Officer and Trainer at the San Francisco Asylum Office, where she trained new asylum officers and interviewed and adjudicated asylum cases. She has also advocated for immigrants and asylum seekers, whom she represented in removal proceedings and before USCIS, as a Staff Attorney at HIAS, Human Rights First, the ACLU of New Jersey, and in private practice. She was a Staff Attorney in the immigration and asylum section at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for four years. Reena has worked in various UNHCR field offices in Africa and the Middle East as a protection and resettlement consultant. She is a graduate of Penn State Law School and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Benin. She speaks French and Spanish.

Yliana Johansen-Méndez is Legal Services Director for Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef). Yliana started her career representing unaccompanied minors as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Kids in Need of Defense. Her fellowship culminated with the creation of a One-Parent SIJS Manual for attorneys seeking predicate orders before the family courts in California. Thereafter she spent five years in government service as Attorney Advisor to the Las Vegas Immigration Court and later as an Asylum Officer in Anaheim, CA. In February 2018 she returned to non-profit immigration removal defense as part of ImmDef’s leadership team, and now oversees the Children’s Representation Project.