Young immigrants coming to the U.S. may be trying to escape dangers and natural disasters back in their home countries or seeking to escape abusive or neglectful family members, human trafficking or child labor. If they make it here, they face challenges due to poverty, language differences, lack of health care or other public benefits.
Because they lack parents or other relatives here in the U.S., many of these young immigrants are in foster care. Without lawful immigration status, they could be deported and sent back to their home countries. If they stay in the U.S. without legal immigration status, they cannot obtain student loans for college, cannot work legally and are vulnerable to exploitation.
There are many programs available for immigrants that may help them stay in the U.S. legally. One of them is Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). It’s an immigration classification which may apply to an undocumented immigrant younger than 21 who has been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents.
Applicants must meet very specific requirements to qualify for SIJS:
- You must be under 21 years old
- You can’t be married
- You must be declared dependent in the state juvenile court. This means the court takes jurisdiction over a petition addressing your needs.
- Getting back together with one or both of your parents is no longer possible due to abuse, neglect, abandonment or a similar basis under state law.
- It’s not in your best interests to return to your country of nationality or last habitual residence.
If you can obtain SIJS you are able to waive several types of inadmissibility that would otherwise stop you from becoming a lawful permanent resident (obtaining a green card):
- Unlawful entry
- Working without authorization
- Status as a public charge
- Other immigration violations.
If you receive SIJS you will be able to change your status to that of a lawful permanent resident, get work authorization and eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. There are two main steps to get SIJS:
- You need to start a proceeding (such as custody, adoption or guardianship) in the local Family or Surrogate’s Court in the county where you live.
- Through this proceeding you must obtain a “special findings order” that declares your eligibility for SIJS.
- Guardianship is the most frequent way for a court to get jurisdiction over you, but you could also file a motion seeking the order though a custody, neglect, adoption, permanency hearing for children in foster care, or a PINS (Person in Need of Supervision) proceeding.
- No matter the method this order is necessary to apply for SIJS status.
- After receiving this order you can apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) for SIJS.
- If you’re successful, it will provide you with lawful permanent residence status and work authorization.
If you obtain a green card through SIJS, there are some limitations. You cannot petition for a green card for your parents or your brothers and sisters until you become a U.S. citizen.
If you live in Kentucky and think you or your foster child may qualify for SIJS, call CF Abogados at (859) 971-0060 or fill out the online contact form so we can discuss your situation and how the law may apply in your case.
Attorney Kirby J. Fullerton
Mr. Fullerton’s practice is focused on immigration law. He speaks Spanish, and represents clients in cases before the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He began his career practicing criminal defense, and understands how matters in criminal courts can affect a client’s immigration status. [Attorney Bio]