Saturday, October 24, 2015

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Findings Made by Virginia JDR Court

A judge in the Norfolk Juvenile and Domestic Relations General District Court granted an order making the findings necessary for a teenage girl to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).  The order will now allow the girls to submit an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to become a permanent resident.

Last year, thousand of unaccompanied minors fled Central America to brave the treacherous journey to cross the border into the United States.  This girl, whose father abandoned her before he was born and who was living with her grandmother, was among those unaccompanied children.  Her grandmother had become too ill to take care of her, and she wanted to be reunited with her mother.

Once across the border, she reported herself to the immigration authorities and was taken into detention. Eventually, the Office of Refugee Resettlement became involved and reunited the girl with her mother.

The girl was placed in removal proceedings in Immigration Court. Although she lived in Norfolk, there is only one Immigration Court with jurisdiction over aliens living in Virginia.  That is the Immigration Court located in Arlington.  This meant that the girl and her mother had to wake up early, and leave Norfolk by 4:00am in order to make a 9:00am Immigration Court hearing.

Initially, the case seemed hopeless.  However, more and more immigration practitioners have been using the SIJS provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to help children in similar situations.

The SIJS provisions permit a state court with jurisdiction over juveniles and custody matters to make findings that: (1) the child has legally been committed to, or placed under the custody of, an agency or deparment of a state, or an individual or entity appointed by a state or the court; (2) reunification with one or both of the parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis found under state law; and (3) it is not in the child's best interests to be returned to the child's or parents' home country or country of last residence.

Once the state court makes these findings, the child can then file an I-360 visa petition along with an I-485 application to adjust status to allow USCIS to make the child a permanent resident.

Because the language of the statute requires a finding that reunification with one or both of the child's parents is not viable, this has allowed a parent of a child who entered the United States unaccompanied to apply for custody through the state family courts and then apply for permanent residency for their child, so long as there is evidence that the other parent has been abusive, neglectful or has abandoned the child.  As was the case with the family who appeared before the court in Norfolk, the mother applied for custody and the court made findings that the father had abandoned the child.

This law has been used increasingly by single parents who are present in the United States without legal status to at least help give their foreign born children legal status.

The drawback to this law is that no parent of a child granted SIJS may then use that relationship with the child to apply for their own immigration benefits.  Thus, when a child granted SIJS status eventually becomes a citizen, that child cannot apply for a visa for his or her parents.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.

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