Monday, May 11, 2015

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status - Relief for Unaccompanied Minors

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) allows certain unaccompanied minors to obtain immigration status. Generally, unmarried minors under the age of 21 who are declared dependent on a juvenile court; who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents; and whose return to their home country is not in their best interest may be eligible for SIJS.

Photo Courtesy of: University of Nebraska Omaha.

Applicants can seek a judgement or order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) from a family district court judge stating they meet the requirements for SIJS:

1.                  The Court must declare the minor to be a court dependent. 

The Court must accept jurisdiction over the minor, meaning the Court will accept to make 
decisions about the child’s custody and care. Although a minor can apply for SIJS until age 21,
many juvenile state courts will only accept jurisdiction over a minor under the age of 18 years.
However, there are exceptions depending on each state. If you are unsure, you should contact a 
family law attorney in your state. 

2.                  The Court must find reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis under state law.

The order must include details about how the minor has been abused, neglected, or abandoned by
one or both of their parents. A paragraph or two should be sufficient to set out the facts of each 
minor’s case, and the order should specify which ground the minor is using.

3.                  The Court must find that return to the home country is not in the minor’s best interest.

The order should also state why the minor cannot return to their home country. This should 
include a statement that the minor has no family members who are willing or able to care for
them in their home country. It can also include brief facts about the country's conditions, such
as violence, lack of schooling, and limited access to health care. 

Once a final order is obtained, the minor can apply for SIJS and lawful permanent residency (the green card). The application for SIJS is completed on Form I-360. The application for lawful permanent residency is completed on Form I-485.

If the minor is not in immigration court, they will mail their applications together to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. If the minor is in immigration court, Form I-360 must generally be approved before the immigration judge will terminate proceedings to allow the minor to apply for lawful permanent residency. 

Lauren E. Wallis is an immigration attorney at Petty & Associates, PLLC. She works out of the firm's Dallas office and focuses on SIJS, VAWA, U Visas, Military PIP, and Citizenship.