What is Special Immigrant Juvenile Status?
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a form of immigration relief available to undocumented children living in the U.S. who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected by at least one parent and meet several other eligibility requirements. SIJS provides a path to citizenship but also involves a multistep process involving family law and immigration law practice.
What are the requirements for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status in Maryland?
That s/he is under 21 years old
- The Immigration and Nationality act defines a child as an unmarried individual under 21. However, in some states, the local family law definitions of a “child” may limit this relief to those individuals under 18 years old.
- That s/he is not married
That s/he cannot be reunified with at least one parent due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect or other similar basis under State law
- The Immigration and Nationality act has not explicitly defined abandonment, abuse, or neglect- leaving each State to define the terms as they see fit.
- That the abuse, abandonment, neglect, or other similar basis occurred prior to the child’s 18th birthday
- That it is not in his/her best interest to be returned to her country of last residence/citizenship
- That s/he has been declared dependent on a juvenile court located in the United States or that a juvenile court has legally placed the child under the custody of an agency or department of State, or an individual or entity.
How can I apply for SIJS?
Applying for SIJS requires two steps: Obtaining a predicate order from a state court that can determine custody and care of children and submitting an actual petition for SIJS with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office.
Will I have to go to Immigration Court?
An SIJS petition to submit to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office- not the local immigration court. However, if you are already in immigration proceedings with your local immigration court, you will also have to attend your hearings and update the immigration judge on the status of your SIJS petition. It is highly recommended that you seek representation for all aspects of your case including any state court proceeding, immigration court proceedings, and pending petitions with USCIS.
What is a predicate order and how do I get one?
A predicate order is a document of special factual findings that affirms that the SIJS applicant meets the eligibility requirements for SIJS. To obtain a predicate order, the SIJS applicant must present a case before a juvenile court. The SIJS applicant must present a case for a legal cause of action or legal remedy. The SIJS predicate order is not considered a legal remedy by itself. Instead, a predicate order is often initiated as an additional request to a qualifying legal remedy. This request is made by submitting a motion. After successfully presenting the case and submitting the motion for SIJS findings, the Judge will issue the predicate order.
What is a Juvenile Court and what are common legal remedies?
Juvenile Courts are courts that have jurisdiction or authority over the custody or care of children. In Maryland, Circuit Courts are declared juvenile courts because they are authorized to make decisions regarding a child’s best interest, custody, guardianships, and other matters. An SIJS applicant who desires to present a case before the Circuit Court, must go the Circuit Court in the county they live in.
After identifying the appropriate court, the applicant must determine whether they have an appropriate cause of action or legal remedy to be in front of the Circuit Court. In Maryland, the commonly sought legal remedies are determinations of Guardianship, Custody, Dependency, or Delinquency (explained below):
Custody: A legal remedy where the court gives one or both parents the authority to make significant decisions on the child’s behalf including welfare, education, religious training, and healthcare. Usually, SIJS applicants may be living with one parent who is seeking sole custody of their child. Additionally, custody can be awarded to a defacto parent or other third person so long as they meet the requirements for third party custody.
Guardianship: A legal remedy where a non-parent adults (any relative or family friend over 21) asks the Court for the legal authority to make decisions about the child’s care or property. In Maryland, the child and all living parents (or custodians) must consent to the guardianship. Usually, this is pursued by SIJS applicants who are not living with either parent.
Dependency and Delinquency hearings are hearings that are commonly heard by juvenile courts when a juvenile requires foster care or has gotten in trouble with the law. In these hearings, an SIJS applicant can ask the court overseeing these hearings to make an SIJS determination.
How do I submit a SIJS petition to USCIS and what is USCIS?
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office is the federal agency that has been designated by the government to oversee immigration to the United States. To submit an SIJS petition, an SIJS applicant must submit a Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant to USCIS along with certain required pieces of evidence. The evidence includes, but is not limited to, the state predicate order, copy of your birth certificate (or any official identity document that establishes your age). It is highly recommended that an SIJS applicant seek an immigration attorney to represent them throughout the USCIS process.
Read the law: 8 C.F.R. §204.11(d)
What happens after I submit a SIJS petition to USCIS?
A USCIS officer will review your petition and assign a priority date. The Officer may approve or deny the petition, or issue a request for more evidence before making a final determination. After the SIJS petition is approved, the priority date will determine when the child can apply for Legal Permanent Residency (a green card).
What are the benefits of SIJS?
A child who is awarded SIJS and is involved in immigration proceedings for deportation or removability will now possess a defense against deportability or removability.
Also, a child granted with SIJS may apply for Legal Permanent Residency, and eventually, for citizenship. When a child applies for legal permanent residency, they may also apply for a work permit pending the approval of their residency application.
What are the disadvantages or limitations of SIJS?
Children who obtain lawful permanent residence through an approved SIJS petition cannot acquire or petition for green cards for their parents. Although most legal permanent residents and citizens are entitled to petition for the lawful permanent residence for their parents, children who obtained their legal status through SIJS give up this right- regardless of which parent abused, abandoned, or neglected them.
Generally, USCIS creates a “cap” for each type of visa they issue. Because of this, some SIJS applicants, depending on their country of origin, may have to wait years after receiving an approval of the I-360 petition. This can cause stress to applicants whose priorities and desires change with age. For example, a child who must wait to file an a petition for legal permanent residency, will not be able to lawfully work in this country for the years they wait- regardless of their age or need.
What are the risks in applying for SIJS?
There are always risks in filing any application with any entity or institution. When filing a petition, willingly gives another person or agency access to personal information for better or worse. USCIS can use the information to determine a person’s eligibility for SIJS benefits or report the same information to other agencies or persons that may have in interest in enforcing other laws. It is important that anyone interested in SIJS consult with an attorney regarding the specific risks in their case.