Last Friday, a California federal judge approved a deal between the federal government and a class of abused immigrant children, in which the immigrants will have a path to United States residency under the “special immigrant juvenile” program and the applications of those who aged out of the program will be re-opened. The suit, filed on behalf of four immigrant children who had been abused and made dependents of state courts, challenged certain United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) administrative policies. In particular, U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson issued a one-page order ruling in favor of the immigrant children who alleged that the government’s implementation of the SIJ program was preventing in-custody immigrant minors from getting the state court orders they needed to apply for SIJ status, and that the policy allowing applicants to age-out of the program was unlawful. The deal also requires the USCIS to notify those class members who will be eligible for their applications to be re-opened.
The purpose of the Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) program is to help foreign children in the United States who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected and are in need of humanitarian protection. Specifically, certain vulnerable children who are unable to be reunited with a parent can get a green card as a SIJ and children who obtain a green card through the SIJ program may live and work permanently in the United States. In terms of eligibility, a child must be unmarried, under 21 years of age at the time of filing, physically present in the United States, and have a qualifying juvenile court order. SIJ-eligible children may come from a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, children in federal custody in the United States without parents or legal guardians, children in a state’s child welfare system (for example, foster care), and children in the court-ordered custody of a state agency or individual. This can include adoption or guardianship.
Our immigration law practice has provided advice to juvenile courts, foster care organizations, and family law attorneys to educate them about current immigration laws as they pertain to SIJ eligibility. Whether you are an organization or professional practitioner advocating for a child or if you are a child who thinks he or she may be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile status, our office is poised to guide you through the process.