Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SJIS)

Pursuant to INA § 101(a)(27)(J), under the classification of “Special Immigrant Juvenile,” certain undocumented individuals, who have been declared dependent on a juvenile court or placed in foster care, and whose reunification with one or both parents is not possible due to abuse, abandonment or neglect, can obtain legal immigration status.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a way for immigrant children who are currently in the United States to adjust their immigration status to a lawful permanent resident status. Although their unlawful presence or unauthorized entry would make them inadmissible for adjustment of status, if they cannot reunify with their parents because they have been abused abandoned, or neglected, then they may be able to get a green card.

Thousands of children and minors arrive in the U.S. each year unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian. The number has increased dramatically in recent years, in large part due to rampant gang violence, extreme poverty, and unstable country conditions in Central and South America.

Once in the United States, if the child is not in foster care, then there needs to be an individual willing and able to seek and obtain either guardianship or custody of the child. By virtue of the juvenile court deciding the guardianship or custody petition or the child being in foster care, the child is deemed to be dependent on a juvenile court. It is possible for one parent to seek custody of the child and then file for SIJS due to the other parent’s abuse, neglect, abandonment.

In order to qualify for SIJS, the minor must meet the following five factors:

  • The juvenile is under twenty-one years of age;
    • AGE OUT WARNING! Although federal regulations provide that an applicant may apply until age 21, a child will “age out” of eligibility for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status at age 18 in Texas because the child will cease to be under the jurisdiction of a “juvenile” court.
  • The minor is unmarried;
  • The child is dependent on the family/juvenile court or placed in the custody of an agency or state department or an individual or entity appointed by a state or juvenile court;
  • Reunification with one or both of the child’s parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment, or a similar basis found under state law; and
  • It would not be in the best interest of the minor to be returned to the juvenile’s home country.

The child can’t apply for this benefit from outside of the United States. Additional requirement for SIJS includes that a child has to be unmarred, meaning that he or she has never been married or their marriage has ended because of death, divorce, or annulment. Also, the child has to be eligible for USCIS consent, meaning that she or he has to seek a court order to obtain relief from mistreatment and not directly get this immigration benefit.

One of the most important things is to identify children who are eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) while they don’t become too old. The age limit in most states is 18 years. Teachers, counselors, and social workers play a significant role in identifying and referring children who are potentially eligible to apply for SIJS.

Children who have been granted SIJS may be eligible to apply for green cards. This process is also known as adjustment of status or applying for lawful permanent resident.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Some advantages to obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile status include that the minor child does not need to have entered the U.S. legally and is not required to show any means of financial support—both of which are barriers to most other types of green card approvals.

Also, Special Immigrant Juveniles are one of only a few types of immigrant applicants who are eligible to have the fee for a green card application waived.

A disadvantage of the green card option under the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status program is that a child who is granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status is never legally permitted to file any immigrant petition for either parent. Therefore, if only one parent was abusive or neglectful, the child will still never be able to petition for the nonabusive parent to get a green card.

State Court Procedures

For the child to be eligible for SIJS, the juvenile or family court in the state where that child lives has to determine that a child has been abused abandoned, or neglected. In addition, the court may also find that a child should not be returned to his or her home country because it would not be in their best interest to return. The child can be made a ward of the state or placed with a family member, guardian, or a state agency.

The two-part process for obtaining SIJS often begins in the family court, and is commenced by initiating a “Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship” (hereinafter “SAPCR”), which seeks the appointment of an individual, including someone other than a child’s parent, to be responsible for the care, custody, and control of the child.

For SIJS purposes, a SAPCR suit may be brought by any of the following persons:

  • A child’s grandparent;
  • A child’s relative;
  • A child’s foster parent; or
  • A non-parent adult, provided certain statutory requirements are met.

Some changes to the state court process include eliminating the requirement that the court find the child “eligible for long-term foster care.” Now a child need not have been in foster care or the child welfare system at all to be eligible for designation as an SIJ. Additionally, the court may find the child’s reunification with one or both parents is not viable. The child may have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one parent and be living with the other parent and be eligible for SIJS.

What qualifies as abandonment, neglect, or abuse differs from state to state as well as which court specifically will make these decisions. An experienced immigration attorney can be of great assistance in these cases.

Are you in Removal or Deportation Proceedings?

Even if you are in Removal or Deportation proceedings, you may still be eligible for permanent residence (green card) through the SIJS program. Decisions regarding SIJS petitions are usually finished within six months from the filing date. Once your SIJS Petition is approved, we will take the necessary steps to either terminate removal or deportation proceedings. Alternatively, we will request the Immigration Court approve your application for Adjustment of Status.

Our One-Stop Shop

If you or a child under 21 years old you know has been living in the U.S. undocumented and hurt from one or both parents, they may be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) which will allow them to apply for lawful permanent residency. Don’t hesitate to contact a skilled immigration lawyer, Michael G. Murray.

In most cases, the office of Michael G. Murray, P.A. will be able to represent minor children in State Court Proceedings as well as with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Immigration Court when it is time to file for the green card. This provides our clients with the benefit of efficiency in time and cost as hiring separate lawyers may be avoided.

For a consultation, contact Michael G. Murray, P.A., Miami-based Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Attorney.

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