Special immigrant juvenile status is granted to unmarried immigrants under the age of 21 who are already in the U.S. and have an American juvenile court order taking them into the custody of a state agency or department.

That juvenile court order must specify that the person cannot be returned to one or both parents due to abuse, abandonment or neglect or the equivalent under state law and also that it is not in their best interest to be returned to their homeland. Once immigrants are granted special immigrant juvenile status, they are eligible to apply for a green card.

The program has been in place since 1990 and does not have any age limitation but that the person be under 21 at the time of application. However, some state juvenile courts lose jurisdiction over their charges once they turn 18.

Since 2010, over 50,000 young people have been granted special immigrant juvenile status — which makes it a relatively small program. However, a large majority of applications are approved, which makes it a safer bet than applying for other programs, like asylum, which also deal with family violence.

Between 2014 and 2017, however, applications surged. At the same time, denials skyrocketed. In the past two fiscal years, 2,000 juveniles were denied the status — more denials than in the prior seven years combined.

The reason for the increase in denials, according to the Associated Press, is that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has begun rejecting applicants who are 18 or older. The Trump administration’s Office of Chief Counsel for the USCIS advised the agency that applicants must have a valid court order from a juvenile court with the authority to reunite the applicants with their parents.

Immigration advocates have filed lawsuits challenging this change in USCIS policy as arbitrary and capricious, and therefore illegal. In a New York case, the advocates have said the agency has no authority to question state law — and that their courts do have jurisdiction over 18- to 21-year-olds. California courts also have that jurisdiction, and a federal judge here has blocked the policy from taking further effect.

Therefore, it should still be possible for immigrants who have been abused or neglected to obtain special immigrant juvenile status, at least in California. For more information about the program or your eligibility, we invite you to call Yew Immigration Law Group. We have years of experience helping immigrants with a wide variety of immigration-related problems.