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U.S. border agents detained at least 52,000 unaccompanied minors from only four Central American countries—Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—in 2014, while 95,000 unaccompanied children sought asylum in Europe in 2015. Given the ongoing turmoil in various parts of the world, these numbers will likely rise. Children are narrowly escaping their native countries. With little help available from legal counsel and little time to gather supporting evidence, more children are relying on the gamble of a positive credibility assessment in an asylum application.

The stakes are high—either a new life in the United States, or probable fatality at home if deported.The lives of all children should receive more security than the subjective judgment of the immigration official conducting the child’s credibility assessment. Current strategies used to increase the accuracy of credibility determinations are often misguided by outdated methodology. By implementing more robust, updated guidelines to increase the accuracy of credibility appraisals and ensuring that the recommendations are practiced with regularity, we can enhance the visibility of children facing persecution.


This article was awarded first place in Cornell Law Library's Robert Cantwell Prize for Exemplary Student Research in 2017.

Karen Smeda’s ambitious paper showcased a diverse and sophisticated understanding of research in international, empirical and interdisciplinary sources.

Smeda’s paper examines the legal ramifications of denying child asylum seekers an equitable credibility determination, arguing that certain changes should be prioritized and that the United States immigration system may be violating constitutional protections that extend to asylum seekers. Her research required a careful analysis of empirical research on child credibility and the ability to translate those findings for consumption by a law-centric readership. She combined that with extensive research on asylum and international law.

“I learned that scholarship on topics with international implications requires a prolonged, thorough research process,” Smeda said. “Generally, a simple Google search will not yield necessary information from other countries. Instead, the library online and book resources have offered me valuable tools to assist me in pursuing my creative endeavors in legal scholarship.”