Special Immigrant Juvenile status is offered by the United States to immigrant minors who are under the jurisdiction of a state juvenile court due to abuse, neglect or abandonment by a parent. Under federal law, immigrant youth generally qualify for the status as long as they:
- Are under 21 at the time of application
- Are unmarried
- Are currently living in the U.S.
- Have a valid juvenile court order from a state court finding that they are dependent, cannot be reunited with one or both parents due to abuse, neglect, abandonment or a similar reason, and it is not in their best interest to return to their country of origin OR were the subject of a juvenile court order but the order lapsed because they were either placed in permanent guardianship or adoption or they aged out of the system
- OR, if they are currently in the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, they have written consent to the court's jurisdiction and the court order changes their custody status or placement
- Did not seek the juvenile court order primarily for an immigration benefit
When granted, Special Immigrant Juvenile status confers legal status to the immigrant. It can also qualify the petitioner for lawful permanent residency (a green card).
Last year, however, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began denying Special Immigrant Juvenile status to young people who were abused, neglected or abandoned, simply because they had turned 18. Four such young people filed a class action in federal court to challenge those age-based denials.
Last October, a federal magistrate judge put a hold on the new policy and prevented the USCIS from being able to deport young people who had been denied the status simply due to age. Now, that judge has issued a ruling allowing the four immigrants' complaints to move forward.
The USCIS insisted that denying Special Immigrant Juvenile status to people who had turned 18 was not a change in policy. They made this claim even though their own website explains that applicants are still eligible if the only reason they don't have a juvenile court order is because they aged out of the system at 18.
Moreover, several states allow people between 18 and 21 to seek status findings through the juvenile courts.
The magistrate judge recently issued a 16-page ruling rejecting the USCIS's claim that the denials did not represent a change in policy but merely "guidance" or "centralization." He also found the USCIS's justification of the policy to be flawed.
If you are seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile status or other relief after having been abused, neglected or abandoned, contact Yew Immigration Law Group.