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Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) permits certain unaccompanied minors to obtain immigration status. Generally, minors who are declared dependent on a juvenile court; whose reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or other similar basis under state law; and whose return to their home country is not in their best interest, may be eligible for SIJS.
The statutory basis for SIJS can be found in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) at § 203(b)(4), which distributes immigrant visas to “special immigrants,” and § 101(a)(27)(J) which defines Special Immigrant Juveniles. The INA’s statutory definition is expanded by the William Wilberforce Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA).
In practice, applicants can seek an order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) from a family district court judge accepting jurisdiction over the minor. The judge must make specific findings of fact that support the eligibility requirements for SIJS.
The Court must accept jurisdiction over the minor, enabling the Court to make decisions about the child’s custody and care. Practitioners must be aware of the age of majority in their state. Although federal regulations provide that a minor can apply for SIJS until age 21, many juvenile courts will not accept jurisdiction over an individual who has reached 18 years of age. However, there are exceptions. In certain jurisdictions, even if the individual is 18 years or older, the practitioner may be able to seek a Declaratory Judgement.
The Court should make specific finds of fact that detail how the minor has been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both of their parents. These terms are defined by state law and practitioners should include facts to support their jurisdiction’s definition. A paragraph or two should be sufficient to set out the facts of each minor’s case. The order should specify which ground the minor is using.
Under changes made by the TVPRA, state court findings can be based on slightly different vocabulary if state law uses different legal terms other than abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
Again, the order must include facts specific to the minor’s case that detail why it is not in the minor’s best interest to be returned to their home country. This should include a statement that the minor has no family members who are able or willing to care for them in their home country. It can also include brief facts about country conditions such as violence, lack of schooling, and limited access to health care.
Once a final order is obtained, the minor will apply for SIJS and lawful permanent residency. The application for SIJS is completed on Form I-360. The application for lawful permanent residency is completed on Form I-485. If the minor is not in removal proceedings, they will mail their applications together to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
If the minor is in removal proceedings, Form I-360 must generally be adjudicated before the Immigration Judge will terminate proceedings to allow the minor to apply for lawful permanent residency.
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