Federal Government Accused of Denying Rights to Those Entitled to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

A federal class action lawsuit filed in March in Texas alleges immigration officials are illegally denying Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) applications of abused and neglected refugee children by claiming they are no longer children, which would contradict the Texas Family Code, according to the Courthouse New Service.

The three named plaintiffs seek to represent a class of “All unmarried persons whose applications for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status were denied or will be denied by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) because the required Texas court dependency order (‘Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship’ or SAPCR) became final after the person turned 18 years.”

The Department of Homeland Security and several others are listed as defendants. The Bernard Kohler Center represents the plaintiffs. Director David Walding states efforts to deport Central American children, often fleeing violence from police and criminal gangs in Central America, are illegal.

A child qualifies for SIJ status if he or she meets the following criteria:

  • Is younger than 21,
  • Is unmarried,
  • Has been declared dependent in a juvenile court in the United States or has been committed by a juvenile court to the custody of a state agency or a state-appointed individual,
  • Has obtained a determination by a juvenile court that reunification with one or both of his or her parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis found under state law, and
  • Has obtained a determination by a juvenile court that it’s not in the child’s best interest to be returned his or her country of origin or last habitual residence.

Texas courts are a “juvenile court” when deciding SAPCR matters, under Texas law. The federal government normally defers findings concerning a child’s welfare to the state juvenile courts, according to the lawsuit.

  • Plaintiffs claim that though they are older than 18, they are children under Sec. 101.003 of the Texas Family Code which defines a “child or minor” as an unmarried person under 18 years of age, and/or “a person over 18 years of age for whom a person may be obligated to pay child support.”
  • The Texas Family Code states that a court can issue a SAPCR order seeking child support after a child’s 18th birthday if the child is enrolled in certain educational programs.
  • This order can be filed before or after the child’s 18th birthday, and the obligation to support a child continues “through the end of the month in which the child graduates.”

The plaintiffs, all under 21, obtained SAPCR orders which found “they have been subjected to abandonment, abuse or neglect by one or more parent; that reunification with one or more parent is not viable based on that abandonment, abuse or neglect; and that return to the plaintiff’s country of origin is not in the best interests of the child.”

Named plaintiffs Clesmy Canales Gonzales and Ramon Soto Carias, both Hondurans, were granted final SAPCR orders ordering child support to be paid by their fathers. They later filed SIJ petitions with USCIS, which rejected them, claiming they were no longer children and the Texas court lacked jurisdiction to enter the SAPCR.

Some of the goals of the lawsuit are these findings:

  • That a “child” includes a person over 18 for whom a person may be obligated to pay child support,
  • Texas courts have proper jurisdiction to enter support orders for the class,
  • Plaintiffs were “dependent” on a “juvenile court,” and
  • USCIS’ denial of the SIJ petitions was arbitrary and capricious.

If you are an immigrant living in Kentucky and have questions about SIJ status, call CF Abogados today at (859) 971-0060 or fill out the online contact form so we can discuss the situation, applicable law and the best options to protect your rights.