Projects: Immigrant Youth Participatory Action Research

In 2013, Vera and Fordham Law School’s Feerick Center for Social Justice embarked on a community-based research project to better understand the needs and experiences of unaccompanied immigrant youth living in New York City. With funding from Leon Lowenstein Foundation, the New York Community Trust, and the Viola W. Bernard Foundation, researchers focused on issues youth often encounter, such as child welfare, immigration, education, mental and physical health care, employment, and access to justice. These findings aim to better inform local government policies and community services.

Given the lack of knowledge surrounding the experiences of unaccompanied immigrant children after they have resettled in communities across the country, this study offers insight into the practical challenges they face and identifies gaps in the services they need in New York City.

The study used a participatory action research (PAR) approach to engage unaccompanied youth and community-based and government service providers. This enabled project participants to play a meaningful role in setting the research agenda, carrying out data collection, interpreting results, and developing recommendations for improving the programs and policies that directly affect them. Vera and the Feerick Center collaborated with Catholic Charities Community Services and Atlas: DIY to complete this study. Research findings will help provide a first step to build more informed policies at the local level and support the inclusion of unaccompanied immigrant children and youth.

Why focus on unaccompanied immigrant youth?

Unaccompanied immigrant children are one of the fastest growing, most vulnerable, and yet most underserved and poorly understood populations in our communities. Usually fleeing dangerous or abusive situations in their home countries, such as gang violence, domestic abuse, and other forms of persecution, conflict or exploitation, children often have family already living in the United States with whom they are seeking to reunite. Unaccompanied children may experience a constellation of vulnerabilities, including exploitation, poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to justice, healthcare, and education. These vulnerabilities stem directly from the overlapping problems of being unaccompanied—often lacking adult support—and being undocumented—living without legal status. At the same time, their motivations for migration, cultural identity, and personal aspirations make them resilient.


Struggle for Identity and Inclusion: Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth in New York City
Youth have been arriving at U.S. borders on their own since the early days of Ellis Island, but it was not until the summer of 2014—when the number of unaccompanied immigrant youth arriving to the United States from Central America increased nearly tenfold from recent years—that “child migrants”...
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Unaccompanied migrant children are once again visible, as the New York Times reported recently in their article, “Migrant Children, Arriving Alone and Frightened.” As the “migrant crisis” in Europe captures public attention, the debate over the...
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Last year, attention surrounding unaccompanied youth reached a fevered pitch. Traveling alone and often fleeing escalating violence in their home countries, unaccompanied youth—undocumented minors under the age of 18 who are in the United States...