In 2014, the United States received a massive influx of unaccompanied children fleeing their homes in Central America. Tens of thousands of children primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras entered the U.S. without a parent or legal guardian, many fleeing violence in their homes, rampant gang violence, and extreme poverty.
This humanitarian crisis brought to light the special immigrant juvenile status program (SIJS) available to all children who have been found to be abandoned, abused, or neglected. Created by the Immigration Act of 1990, the SIJS program allows children who are abandoned, abused, or neglected by one of their parents to apply for lawful status and eventually U.S. citizenship.
Generally, children are deemed to be abandoned, abused, or neglected in two ways: (1) they become a ward of the state by a juvenile court (generally meaning they are placed in the long-term foster care system) or (2) a court with jurisdiction over the child determines that he/she is abandoned, abused, or neglected (this typically happens through a filing of a guardianship over the child by a proposed guardian which could be a relative or friend.) In both cases, the courts must also make a finding that it is not in the best interest of the child to be returned to his/her country of nationality.
The purpose of the SIJS program is to help children who are unable to be reunited with a parent to obtain a green card (legal permanent residency). Children with SIJS are allowed to live and work in the United States and eventually become U.S. citizens. Due to the nature of the relief, children who are approved for SIJS are unable to sponsor their parents for immigration status.
If you know of a child who may qualify for SIJS, contact our office. Our experienced attorneys can assist you in evaluating a case for SIJS and help you get on the right track to obtaining this important form of relief for children. This relief is only available to children under the age of 21 and who are unmarried, so don’t delay. SIJS can make a significant difference in a child’s life, providing safety, security, and the opportunity to fully live the American dream.