Maria Woltjen is an expert in immigration law and children's rights. She is the founder and executive director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago Law School. The Young Center is a national organization that advocates for the best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children. The federal government appoints the Young Center to serve as child advocate—similar to a guardian ad litem—for the most vulnerable of these children. The Young Center now has offices in Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio and Harlingen, Texas.
Throughout her 30 years as an attorney, Woltjen has focused on children’s rights, at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the ChildLaw Center at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, and for the past ten years at the University of Chicago Law School. Woltjen’s focus is on reforming the immigration system—in which children are treated as adults—into a justice system that recognizes children as children, with rights and protection needs all their own. Woltjen is the recipient of the American Constitution Society 2013 Ruth Goldman Award and the 2017 UNICEF Chicago Humanitarian Award.