You are here: American University Centers Latin American and Latino Studies Annual Latino Public Affairs Forum 2020

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) delivers keynote address.
Advancing a Fundamental Standard for the Treatment of Immigrant Children
February 13-14, 2020


For over a century, the best interests standard has served as the cornerstone of a robust legal architecture erected by every state in the U.S. to safeguard the well-being of children, regardless of their immigration status. A global consensus, embodied in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), has also embraced the best interests standard as the fundamental framework to guide decision-making involving children. As a signatory to the CRC, which this year marks its thirtieth anniversary as the most widely ratified treaty in recent history, the U.S. government has pledged not to act in a manner that undermines the best interests principle. And yet, despite these longstanding commitments, our country is witnessing a systematic assault on the rights of migrant children as the Trump administration works to roll back hard-fought progress in extending the best interests standard into immigration law and practice. 

Together with the American University Washington College of Law (WCL) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), CLALS convened a high-profile, cross-disciplinary symposium to generate impactful publicity around this erosion of fundamental protections and to equip advocates and policymakers to defend and reassert the primacy of the best interests standard in the treatment of children in the U.S. immigration system. 


The CLALS-prepared report, "In Children's Best Interests: Charting A Child-Sensitive Approach to U.S. Immigration Policy," synthesizes and builds upon the presentations from leading scholars, practitioners, and advocates at the symposium. Authored by CLALS Assistant Director for Research Dennis Stinchcomb, the report provides a detailed assessment of the impact of the current administration’s policies on children and on the integrity of the immigration process, as well as offers a comprehensive roadmap for analysts and advocates interested in exploring how the best interests principle can inform immigration policy and practice.


Jones Day; Kirkland & Ellis LLP; 
Baker McKenzie; Law Offices of Sheila Starkey Hahn, PC;
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP;
White & Case LLP; and Hogan Lovells

Event Recap

Over 300 lawyers, policy experts, health professionals, and other advocates gathered on February 13-14, 2020 for the two-day symposium, which featured 36 speakers from across the U.S. and from Central America. U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) delivered the keynote address on the first day of the symposium. Morning sessions on February 14 were aired live on C-SPAN. A video recording of day one is available here, and of day two here. Further media coverage is available here

UNHCR's Best Interests Principles
Alice Farmer, UNHCR

Displacement of Refugee and Migrant Children from Guatemala
Lauren Heidbrink, California State University, Long Beach

Structural Causes of Migration and the Response and Capacity of Central American Governments
Ricardo Barrientos, Central American Institute of Fiscal Studies (ICEFI)

MPP: Future is History
Stephen Manning, Innovation Law Lab

Safe Third Country? Refugee Processing in Guatemala and Mexico
Jayesh Rathod, American University Washington College of Law

Why "Best Interests"?
Tianna Gibbs, UDC David A. Clarke School of Law

Fighting for Children's Best Interests in Immigration Cases and Federal Immigration Policy
Jennifer Nagda, Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights

A Better "Best Interests": Immigration Policy in a Comparative Context
Michelle Statz, University of Minnesota Medical School

Restoring Protection for Victims of Gender-Based Violence
Karen Musalo, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, UC Hastings College of the Law