Adultification of Immigrant Children

59 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2020

See all articles by Laila Hlass

Laila Hlass

Tulane University - Law School

Date Written: March 2020


Children occupy a “liminal childhood,” in the immigration legal system, as they are provided neither child-appropriate protections, nor necessarily the meager rights afforded to adults. At times, they are viewed through a protectionist lens, infantilized and robbed of agency. More commonly, however, immigrant children—largely teens of color—are subjected to adultification. Adultification refers to the phenomenon whereby children of color suffer a wide variety of negative outcomes across a diverse range of public systems, including education, juvenile justice, and child welfare, because they are perceived as more adult-like than their white peers.

This article casts new light on the mistreatment of children across the spectrum of immigration legal proceedings. To remedy the injustice of the current situation, I reimagine an immigration legal system founded in the principle of proportionality, which would recognize the vulnerabilities of and bias impacting migrant children. In particular, I argue that a reconceptualization of migrant children should incorporate lessons learned from failures within the juvenile justice system, which has been reckoning with problems of adultification and infantilization of children for more than a century.

Keywords: immigration, immigrant youth, children's rights, crimmigration, unaccompanied minor, deportation, migrant children, Due Process, Department of Homeland Security, Removal

Suggested Citation

Hlass, Laila, Adultification of Immigrant Children (March 2020). 34 Georgetown Immigration Law Journal 200 (2020), Tulane Public Law Research Paper No. 20-4, Available at SSRN:

Laila Hlass (Contact Author)

Tulane University - Law School ( email )

6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States
5048628815 (Phone)

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics