Non-citizen juveniles (i.e., children) in the United States are sometimes abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents. This may be because these juveniles are in the United States without parents or because their parents in the United States are unable to care for them. In 1990, the U.S. Congress created Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJ status) to protect and assist these children. In 2008, the Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act changed the SIJ status eligibility requirements and streamlined some of its procedures.
With SIJ status, juveniles who are declared dependent by a juvenile court or are put into the custody of state agencies or court-appointed entities because they cannot be returned to one or both of their parents, and who cannot be returned to their home country or “last habitual residence” because it is not in their best interest, may qualify for SIJ status. Once SIJ status is granted, the recipient may apply for lawful permanent residence status (LPR status) (i.e., a green card) and eventually U.S. citizenship.
The dedicated Lexington immigration attorneys at CF Abogados can help if you are a non-citizen juvenile in the United States and you have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both of your parents or if you know of a child in such a situation. Representation by a knowledgeable attorney like those at CF Abogados can help during court proceedings and in filing of the application for SIJ status.
What Government Agency Coordinates Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Applications?
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a part of the Department of Homeland Security. Applications for SIJ status are filed with USCIS, where the application and its supporting documentation, including the juvenile court order, are reviewed. USCIS also receives applications and determines eligibility for LPR status. LPR status and SIJ status applications may be filed with USCIS. However, if the juvenile is in removal (i.e., deportation) proceedings, it will be necessary to file the SIJ status application first, terminate the removal case, and then file for LPR status.
As part of its determination for granting SIJ status, USCIS must conclude that the SIJ status application was made primarily to protect the juvenile’s welfare rather than to receive an immigration benefit.
Who Is Eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status?
To be eligible for SIJ status, there must first be a finding, signed by a state court judge with juvenile jurisdiction (i.e., a dependency, guardianship, probate, or delinquency court), that:
- the juvenile has been declared to be dependent on the court and placed into the custody of an agency or department of a state or an individual or entity appointed by the state or a juvenile court located in the United States;
- reunification with one or both parents is not possible because the juvenile was abused, neglected, or abandoned; and
- there has been an administrative or judicial finding that it would not be in the juvenile’s best interest to return the juvenile to the juvenile’s parents or the juvenile’s previous country of nationality or country of last habitual residence.
There are some additional requirements before the SIJ status application can be filed. The state court judge of juvenile jurisdiction must also determine that these requirements have been or will be met:
- the juvenile must file for SIJ status before reaching the age of 21;
- the juvenile must be unmarried at the time of filing the application and must remain unmarried until SIJ status is granted;
- the juvenile court must retain jurisdiction until SIJ status has been granted by USCIS, unless the juvenile is over the age of 18;
- the dependency case cannot have been filed as a sham just to get immigrant status; and
- if the juvenile is in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, ICE has given its consent for the filing of the SIJ status application, or if the juvenile is an unaccompanied minor, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has given its consent.
Can a Juvenile With SIJ Status Be Denied LPR Status?
A juvenile who files for SIJ status will either simultaneously or eventually apply for LPR status (depending on individual circumstances). Requirements for LPR status, therefore, must be met before that status will be granted. If a juvenile is:
- known or reasonably believed to have engaged in drug trafficking;
- a drug addict;
- engaging in prostitution;
- found to have violated a protection order;
- found to have used false documents; or
- determined to have a mental condition that is a threat to others,
the juvenile may not be eligible for LPR status.
How Can a Non-Citizen Juvenile Apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status?
Were you brought into the United States illegally, did you arrive in the United States as a juvenile without your parents, have you been abused or neglected by either of your parents since your arrival, or were you abandoned by one or both of your parents after you arrived? If you are a non-citizen under the age of 21, and you were abused, neglected, or abandoned by either of your parents, you may be eligible for SIJ status.
Your first step should be to contact the Special Immigrant Juvenile Petition attorneys at CF Abogados today about your situation. These knowledgeable Kentucky immigration lawyers are ready to sit down to talk with you and help determine if you are eligible to apply for SIJ status. They can also represent you in juvenile court proceedings before your application is filed with USCIS. Talk with them before you contact any government agency.
You can reach CF Abogados by calling (859) 838-1413, or by filling out their online contact form.