Vulnerable Immigrant Children Can Face A Long Road Toward Lawful Permanent Residence
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) allows certain children and youth to get lawful permanent residency – a green card – when they cannot live with one or both parents due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Many times, these children’s parents have passed away, abandoned them or one parent is living in the United States while the other biological parent is missing, determining that it is not in their best interest to return to their home country.
SIJS was designed to protect vulnerable immigrant youth, however, over the years it has been difficult for eligible minors to access and seek a pathway toward protection. Discrepancies between state and federal law have caused far too many cases to go by the wayside. New standards for determining SIJS applications have also led to the rejection of hundreds of applicants. Moreover, in recent years, policy changes and a growing number of applicants have resulted in a dramatically slowed processing rate leaving those most in need in dire straits.
What is SIJS?
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) allows immigrant children in the state juvenile system who cannot reunify with their parents due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect, and who meet certain other criteria, to apply for and obtain lawful permanent resident status.
There are specific requirements for a child to qualify for SIJS. With the help of an immigration attorney, you can seek experienced help and determine eligibility. The basic qualifications include:
- Anyone under 21 years old
- An unmarried status
- An order from a juvenile court confirming that you are dependent, but cannot live with one or both of your parents because of abuse, abandonment, or neglect
- It is not in the best interest of the minor to return to his/her country of nationality or last habitual residence
The Current SIJS Situation Paints A Gloomy Picture
There are more than 44,000 child immigrants in limbo waiting for a green card because of the SIJS backlog. Although the Build Back Better Act offers protections from deportation for millions of undocumented adult immigrants, children are being left behind. The Build Back Better bill would create a parole program and the ability to seek work permits for immigrants who have lived in the United States for over a decade or more, but leave many immigrant children unprotected.
Congress created SIJS in 1990 as a humanitarian immigration protection program and a pathway to permanency and safety for children who have been abused, abandoned, and neglected. Yet, today the staggering number of vulnerable child immigrants trapped in this process is
bewildering and prevents them from accessing lawful permanent residence. This is mainly because SIJS children are treated as “special workers” in the green card visa system which is bound by country-specific limits on the number of visas available.
The SIJS Backlog
The SIJS backlog began in 2016, when United States Citizenship and Immigration Services started barring SIJS children from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and India from immediately applying for green cards. And depending on larger immigration trends and conditions, wait times became more and more unpredictable. Today, children from India are no longer subject to the backlog, but because of the way Congress wrote the law, children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have been expected to wait an average of four years to receive green cards after first applying for SIJS.
This four-year wait is a devastating length of time to a child who is already in an unhealthy and often dangerous family situation. Children worry about aging out of care with no protections, no legal work status and no place to call home. Children in the SIJS backlog are undergoing severe mental health issues, dropping out of school only to face illegal working conditions, struggling with hunger and homelessness and basically just trying to survive.
The Sad Truth
Although SIJS was enacted to protect immigrant children from deportation, instability and unsafe circumstances, the SIJS backlog disregards the very intentions of the enactment and has caused even greater duress for these minors. Congress has the power to end the backlog – by amending immigration laws to exempt SIJS children from the per country and worldwide employment visa limitations – they could set a precedent in keeping with other humanitarian classes of immigrants. Although the Biden administration is pushing for stronger immigration protections and making such strides, SIJS children have been noticeably left behind.
The Law Office Of Michele Alcalde Can Help At-Risk Minor Immigrants Deal With The Uncertainties Of Their Lives
LOMA – The Law Office of Michele Alcalde – fights for the rights of immigrants and their families every day. And when it comes to protecting the rights of children who are left out, frightened and have never experienced the love and protection of family, The Law Office of Michele Alcalde fights even that much harder. Michele and her compassionate staff handle many SIJ cases representing children from numerous countries who desperately need special protections.
These children deserve a chance to feel safe regardless of immigration status. They simply deserve a chance to be kids. Michele works to give children that chance handling each case with extreme sensitivity and legal expertise. No child should ever feel afraid to face another day or experience the traumas of hunger, solitude and abandonment. Find us at our social media accounts or call us at 732.766.1407 to move toward giving all children the life they deserve!
Posted in: Immigration