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Carrey Wong: KIND Regional Director, Legal Services, West

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) provides free lawyers and psychosocial support to unaccompanied children – minors under 18 who come to the United States without a parent or legal guardian to seek safety. They replicate this model abroad through their offices and partners in Europe and the United Kingdom, and help repatriated children in Central America access services essential to their reintegration. Learn more about KIND's work here!

Who are the kids you’re serving and why do they need your legal resources?


My work is based in the United States, where more than 100,000 unaccompanied children from all parts of the world have arrived in the United States seeking protection in recent years. From places such as Afghanistan and Ukraine to Haiti and Honduras, children alone are fleeing political unrest, violence, gangs, human trafficking, environmental disasters, and other life-threatening dangers. They range in age from toddlers to teenagers. In Fiscal Year 2023, nearly 150,000 children arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian.


After children are apprehended by Customs and Border Protection, they are placed in deportation proceedings and must defend themselves against being sent back to the dire situations from which they fled. The U.S. government does not provide attorneys to unaccompanied children in immigration court, regardless of their age. It is nearly impossible for a child to navigate the U.S. immigration system and have a fair chance to make their case for U.S. protection without an attorney to help them. 


That’s where KIND steps in. We work with more than 800 law firm, corporate, law school, and bar association partners to find free attorneys to represent these children in their immigration proceedings. Unaccompanied children with legal counsel are nearly 100 times more likely to receive legal relief than those who face immigration proceedings without an attorney. 


Can you tell me about the psychosocial support KIND offers in addition to legal services?


Each KIND office has at least one, and sometimes a whole team, of social services coordinators.  Their role is critical to our holistic support of our child clients and to our child-centered, trauma-informed approach. Our social services team helps connect the client to needed resources, including counseling, help with school enrollment, housing support, and food pantries. They also organize opportunities for children to engage with others in group settings, including KIND holiday parties, art or play therapy, and back-to-school drives. 


As someone who worked in a KIND field office, I have seen the tremendous impact of social services on our child clients. They are better able to focus on their legal case because they have the support and added stability of the services provided by the social services team. They feel safer and more secure. They can start to enjoy their lives and be kids again.  

 

What are some of the policies KIND advocates for to protect children?


KIND envisions a world in which children’s rights and well-being are protected as they migrate alone in search of safety.  Our advocacy is rooted in child protection and ensuring that immigrant children are treated as children first and foremost. Our policy team advances laws, policies, and practices to ensure children’s protection and uphold their right to fundamental fairness in immigration proceedings. For example, we advocate for free lawyers for all unaccompanied children and separate immigration courts for children with specially trained staff, and work to ensure that immigrant children are protected from exploitative labor.  


Our scope is global. We advocate in Europe and Mexico to promote the protection of unaccompanied and separated children, many of whom have fled conflict, including children who were forced to flee Ukraine. We provide durable solutions to child migration that promotes the best interests of the child.  


What is the best part of your job?


The people who work at KIND are truly the best part of my job.  My colleagues in the field offices represent the best of KIND and are the heart of our organization, connecting with the unaccompanied children they serve and focusing their best efforts to give the children stability and safety.  The support from our social services staff to provide holistic and vital resources for our clients is truly amazing.  And I am moved witnessing the dedication and compassion of our KIND pro bono attorneys who volunteer their time to make a life-changing impact on a child.


Everyone – from our administrative staff to management to field office staff – is dedicated and committed to KIND’s mission.  It has been truly a pleasure to be a part of KIND for the past seven years and to see the organization grow and give unaccompanied children safety, hope, and the chance to live out their dreams.

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