It’s almost impossible to go a full day without seeing an article about immigration. In recent days, most of the headlines have been focused on the status of DACA. There’s another important immigration topic that is lesser known, however: Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is one method by which undocumented children can obtain permanent legal residence in the United States. SIJS is an immigration classification available to certain immigrant youth who have been abandoned or neglected by one or both of their parents. Meeting its criteria can be very difficult and often confusing. On top of that, minors in the immigration system do not have a right to counsel. Many attorneys, aware of the complexity of these issues and the lack of counsel in these cases, represent unaccompanied youth on a pro bono basis. Whether you are representing unaccompanied youth pro bono or expanding your practice to represent children in immigration proceedings, it’s important to do your due diligence beforehand in order to understand what SIJS is and how to qualify for it. Lawline’s course Representing Unaccompanied Children in Immigration Courtprovides a helpful breakdown of SIJS’ requirements.
The third prong is especially tricky. To be declared independent, a state court must have determined the following:
Due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect, reunification with the child’s parents is not viable; and
It is not in the best interest of the child to return to his or her home country or last country of residence.
In deciding what’s in the best interest of the child, the court can consider a number of factors including the support system available to the child in the U.S. versus the home country, educational and/or employment opportunities in the home country, the child’s potential language barriers, and potential violence or persecution in the child’s home country.
If all of the above factors are met, the child must obtain a “special findings order” from the court declaring the youth’s eligibility for SIJS. After receiving this order, the minor can then apply for SIJS status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).