Quite often, the welfare of immigrant minors is raised among news outlets. In recent news, we heard about an alarming number of children being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border and held in detention facilities. But what about children who overstayed their visa or were brought to the United States by other means? They too, can obtain permanent residency through a Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) proceeding.
SIJ status is granted to children who are under the age of 21, but preferably under the age of 18, as the Trump Administration threatens a restriction on the age limit. In order to obtain a Green Card through SIJ status, a Juvenile Court of their State of residence must deem those children as abandoned or neglected by their parents. A child can be deemed abandoned or neglected when at least one parent refrains from providing them with adequate food, shelter, education or emotional support, and other issues that can be brought to a Court to prove abandonment—including the death of a parent.
Once it is established that a child has been abandoned or neglected, the Court will order a guardianship or a related custody order so that their needs can be met. The guardian or custodian does not need to be a citizen of the United States; however, they must not have any criminal records neither should other members of their household. An Order from the Juvenile Courts will be used to petition USCIS for the child to be granted a Green Card.
In 2017, Eber, from Guatemala, was granted SIJ relief and obtained his Green Card after his older brother was appointed to be his guardian. He left his home because he was physically abused by his father and both parents abandoned him. He faced deportation when he came to the United States illegally. His application for guardianship, with the Court finding that his parents abandoned him, enabled him to receive Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, and thus he was able to obtain his Green Card.
Not all cases are as extreme. Sometimes a Court will find neglect if a parent passed away and there is no one else to care for the child in the home country. Other times, the Court will determine that an abusive parent is neglectful and will place the child with an appropriate guardian.
Brian Figeroux, Esq., the attorney who advocated for Eber’s SIJ petition, said, “too many children who are abandoned in the United States, don’t get proper advice either because the people they live with do not care, or they don’t get multiple consultations from seasoned AILA lawyers.” He also pointed out that social workers who work with immigrant children need to understand that SIJ proceedings are the solution to many of these children’s problems. He further said, “my concern is that those children are missing out on many opportunities to get a proper education and jobs, which can lead them to be frustrated, depressed and suicidal.”
Many children, who were brought to the United States by family members or came on their own, should know that there is a way to find relief and obtain permanent residency. The SIJ status is one way whereby they can remain with loving relatives or be appointed new guardians who would care for them in the United States. They can find assistance with an immigration attorney who also has experience with family law matters, specifically with the Special Immigrant Juvenile petition. Mr. Figeroux extends a free consultation to anyone who needs advice on this matter. A legal consult will open the door for a future without the fear of deportation. Call 855-768-8845 for a free consult.
Chereen James is an aspiring lawyer who enjoys writing in her spare time. Chereen has written for publications such as The Statesman and is now a writer for Workers’ World Today. She also co-hosts a radio show, “Ask the Lawyer.”