Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is an immigration status through which young people under 21 who meet specific eligibility requirements are able to gain Lawful Permanent Residence (LPR) in the United States. This past month, working with Safe Passage Project (a New York City-based nonprofit organization that serves indigent immigrant youth), I secured a SIJS-based green card for a 15-year-old client from Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world. The client was abandoned by her parents in her home country; the family member with whom she lived no longer wished to care for her and sent her – unknowing at age 14 – by foot and by bus to the United States. My client’s eligibility to become a lawful permanent resident because of SIJS was not only life-changing, but also likely life-saving.
The Department of State has issued policy applicable next month that will limit LPR eligibility for children and teenagers like my client. The May 2016 Visa Bulletin requires that certain Special Immigrant and Religious Worker applicants who are charged to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras must use the Application Final Action Date with the Priority Date cut off of January 1, 2010 in order to apply for Adjustment of Status (AOS). The Bulletin notes: “Any forward movement during the remainder of FY-2016 is unlikely although no specific prediction is possible.”
The requirement that such applicants must have their AOS applications submitted before May 1 to avoid being subject to the backlog can have a devastating impact on many SIJS applicants. SIJS is available to applicants in the United States who are under the age of 21 and who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both the parents, are unmarried, and have been declared dependent in a juvenile court (for which the requirements vary by state). Additionally, the reunification with one or both of the applicant’s parents must no longer be a viable option, and it must not be in the best interests of the applicant to return to his or her country of nationality or last habitual residence. Applicants who meet the requirements and who engage in the requisite local Family Court and immigration filing processes (including overcoming orders of removal, if applicable) are eligible for LPR. SIJS waives several types of inadmissibility that would otherwise prevent an applicant from becoming a green card holder.
With the violence and civil strife occurring particularly in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, thousands of unaccompanied minors have traveled in extremely dangerous conditions to reach the United States seeking help, as reflected in recent media coverage. President Obama has called the surge of young immigrants an “urgent humanitarian situation.” AOS based on SIJS presents a solution to the crisis, yet the latest from the Department of State will put the solution out of reach for many young people. For my own client, had we not been as successful as we were regarding Family Court and Immigration Court hearings (including the dates for which they were scheduled), we would have been unable to submit her filings to USCIS when we did. The client could now be at risk of facing the upcoming backlog unfortunately confronting so many young people.
Greenberg Traurig strongly encourages pro bono work and in fact was recognized as the most charitable law firm in 2014. Greenberg Traurig attorneys often work with immigrant youth, including SIJS applicants. Many nonprofit organizations, with the assistance of pro bono attorneys from firms like Greenberg Traurig, are working tirelessly to file AOS applications before the backlog takes effect in May, and in general to aid these applicants. The Immigration Advocates Network provides a directory of several non-profits throughout the United States that provide free or low-cost immigration legal services and often collaborate with firms. These organizations can provide further information on how to help.
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