chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
March 08, 2023

ABA/KIND Unaccompanied Children’s Service Provider Training 2023 in Houston

By Commission Advisory Committee member Stacy Brustin
Some members of the ABA staff who attended the conference.

Some members of the ABA staff who attended the conference.

On March 1-3, 2023, the ABA Commission on Immigration and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), hosted the third Unaccompanied Children’s Service Provider Training in Houston. The theme for this year’s conference was “reconnect, restore, and inspire,” which is exactly what the 200 participants did over three days of speakers, panels, receptions, music, and community meals. Participants were grateful to connect in person with colleagues, both new and old. One attendee aptly described the excitement she felt “learning and connecting with others who are as interested and passionate about this work as I am.”

The conference kicked off with a moving tribute to Cindy Bernal, ProBAR’s Director of Shelter Services.  Cindy immigrated from El Salvador and obtained legal residency with the help of attorneys from ProBAR.  Upon graduating from college in the Rio Grande Valley, she began advocating for immigrant children at ProBAR where years later she now oversees a department of over 90 staff.  In accepting the honor, Cindy powerfully urged advocates “to draw from our own experiences to serve with compassion and kindness.  With servitude that moves mountains, with resiliency that is stronger than any challenge that comes our way.  And that the frustrations of our work when the outcome is not what we hoped for only serve to make us even more determined.” She also urged attendees to reconnect and draw strength from one another while also making time for self-care, themes that resurfaced throughout the three-day event.

The training brought together social workers, child advocates, paralegals, legal service providers, academics, litigators, and policy advocates whose varying backgrounds and approaches enabled participants to consider issues from multiple perspectives. Attendees learned from expert panelists and from one another.  During the panel presentations, speakers discussed developments in the law, highlighted innovative service models, shared practice tips, showcased new policy and litigation strategies, and celebrated hard fought victories achieved through coalition building.  One attendee summed up the experience describing how powerful it was “to be learning from such fierce advocates.”

One of the many informative panel discussions on service models, shared practice tips, showcased new policy and litigation strategies.

One of the many informative panel discussions on service models, shared practice tips, showcased new policy and litigation strategies.

A highlight of the event were the lunch speakers – Alda P. Dobbs, author of the historical novels Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna and The Other Side of the River and Javier Zamora, author of the poetry collection, Unaccompanied and a recently published memoir, Solito.  Dobbs’ stories for young people attempt to connect them to their past as a way of understanding the present. In Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna, she draws from experiences her great-grandmother relayed about living in northern Mexico and attempting to cross into the United States to escape the Federales during the Mexican Revolution. 

In his memoir, Zamora shares his harrowing experience as a nine-year-old migrating alone from El Salvador, through Guatemala, Mexico, and the Sonoran Desert.  Javier explained that his “childhood ended the day I left El Salvador” and  he relayed with raw honesty the anger and frustration he experienced growing up in California as an undocumented, Salvadoran child.  It was the writing of his memoir that allowed Javier to confront the trauma he experienced during his migration journey.  He gave powerful advice in response to audience questions, emphasizing the importance of using creativity to connect with kids and ensuring unaccompanied children receive comprehensive mental health services.  

During the final session of the conference, Dalia Castillo-Granados, and Yasmin Yavar (Director and Deputy Directors of CILA) along with pro bono attorney Timothy Tyler and his client “Emanuel” spoke of the challenges of navigating the immigration process for unaccompanied children and the impact a team approach to representation has on a child, regardless of the outcome of the legal case.  As “Emanuel” described it, “with Tim, I felt invincible.”  Tim underscored the bond the attorneys shared with their client, explaining “[i]t’s like 3 people in a boat: if we are going down, we are going down together. You are not alone at all.” 

Throughout the three-day training, one could feel the energy as colleagues from across the country connected in person after years of Zoom meetings.  One person described the event as a “hug fest” while another commented “I get to see all the amazing people who got me through the toughest times in lawyering!” 

A huge thank you goes to the conference organizers from KIND, our own Dalia Castillo-Granados from CILA, and Meredith Linsky and Alex Nasserjah from the Commission’s DC office, without whom this amazing training would not have been possible.  I know I speak for all attendees when I say that I left Houston reconnected, restored, inspired, and looking forward to the next ABA/KIND Unaccompanied Children Service Providers training!

Mariachi Los Pasajeros performing at a conference reception.

Mariachi Los Pasajeros performing at a conference reception.

Stacy L. Brustin

ABA Commission on Immigration Advisory Committee member

Stacy Brustin is a Professor of Law and Director of the Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Clinic [IRAC] at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. She supervises law students in asylum, custody/bond, and humanitarian parole cases.  She coordinates community legal education workshops and leads spring break pro bono trips to Catholic Charities in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Prior to directing IRAC, Stacy directed civil practice clinics where she developed expertise in family law. Her scholarship focuses on access to justice and the intersection between immigration law and family law.