Monday, March 21, 2016

Judge Makes Special Immigration Juvenile Status (SIJS) Findings

A judge on the Juvenile and Domestic Relations General District Court in Virginia signed an order today making the findings required to permit a juvenile from Central America to apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, or SIJS.  SIJS is one of the more unique immigration statuses in that the law authorizes state courts to make the initial findings before the juvenile can apply to USCIS.

In order to qualify, the alien must be under 21, unmarried and apply to a court in the state where he or she resides which has jurisdiction over minors.  The state court must first find that the juvenile is dependent on the state court.  Dependent can mean that the state court places the juvenile with a state agency for care, or with a private individual.  The court must then find that reunification with one or both of the juvenile's parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment or a similar ground under state law.  Finally, the state court must find that it is not in the juvenile's best interests to be returned to his or her home country.

In today's proceeding, the juvenile's father was an alcoholic who physically abused the mother.  The father threw the juvenile out of the house with the mother's acquiescence.  The juvenile, who faced harassment at the hand of street gangs at school, fled to the United States where his older sister lived.  Once in the United States, his parents refused to provide any financial support.

The juvenile's sister applied to the court for custody, and requested that the judge make the SIJS findings.  The judge agreed, permitting the juvenile to proceed with his application with USCIS.

Applying for custody is a typical way in which a responsible adult can assist a juvenile in obtaining the required SIJS findings.  Because the law permits a finding that reunification is not viable with one or both parents, often a parent who is present in the United States can apply for custody of his or her own child in order protect that child from the abuse or neglect of the parent who remained in the foreign country.  Once a state juvenile court has jurisdiction through a custody petition, the parent can then ask the court to make the required findings.

If the juvenile is in Immigration Court proceedings, a practitioner can request that the court continue, or delay, the proceedings while the juvenile is applying for the SIJS findings in state court.  Once the state court makes the findings, the practitioner can then request that the Immigration Court case be terminated to allow the juvenile to apply with USCIS.  The end result is the granting of permanent residency to the juvenile, and an opportunity to apply for U.S. citizenship in the future.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.

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