Q: What can a CASA do to help a youth who is not a citizen or legal resident?
A: It depends on the situation – it is important to help the youth gain legal status if possible. At the very least, you can help the youth avoid delinquent and criminal conduct. If you can, help identify any path to legal residency. The most common paths to lawful immigration status for youth are through Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), U-visa, T-visa, or VAWA. It is essential that the child seek the help of a qualified immigration attorney to identify potential eligibility for relief and assist the child in their application.
Q: Should I always seek SIJS and a green card for the youth if they qualify?
A: Always keep your eye on the best interests of the child. Do not discount reunification just because it might negatively affect the youth’s chances of gaining a green card – safe and successful reunification is the goal! But you must consider the immigration needs of the youth and advocate as necessary to protect their best interests.
Q: As a CASA, how can I best help the child gain legal residency?
A: It is almost always a good idea to seek the necessary court findings as soon as possible – which will likely be as soon as a child is not able to reunify with at least one of their parents.
First, it is imperative to get the SIJS findings, and get the youth the help of a qualified immigration attorney to discuss the application process and their chances of successfully attaining SIJS and subsequent legal residency.
Second, if it is determined that the youth should apply, then it is essential that the youth apply for SIJS and legal residency as soon as possible. There is generally a waitlist for completing applications.
Third, work with the youth to ensure that he or she stays out of trouble with the law. Charges of criminal conduct could negatively affect their chances of receiving legal residency.
Lastly, work to ensure that the child has a good professional who is paying careful attention to the timelines and the complicated application process.
Q: What are important things to think about regarding the timing of an application for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)?
A: For dependent youth an application for SIJS can only be made 1) after reunification services are terminated as to at least one of the youth’s parents, 2) before the youth turns 21 years old, and 2) is under a valid juvenile dependency jurisdiction.
Q: Can the judge refuse to make Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) findings?
A: No, the law requires the judge to make the SIJS findings if the evidence supports those findings. 22
Q: How can a CASA volunteer help prevent the youth from being charged as a delinquent?
A: Besides working to ensure that the youth has healthy hobbies and activities, and necessary interventions, a CASA volunteer can help advocate for a youth who becomes involved in the delinquency system. For example, when a youth in foster care is charged with a delinquent act, the delinquency court must hold a hearing pursuant to Welf. & Inst. Code section 241.1. The youth’s CASA volunteer should provide a statement to be included in the report that is prepared for the court, and the CASA is entitled to notice of the hearing and a copy of the report. The CASA can address the court and advocate that the youth remain a dependent. 23
Q: What is PRUCOL?
A: PRUCOL refers to those who are “Permanently Residing Under the Color of Law,” and relates to eligibility for certain public benefits for individuals who are residing in the U.S. with the knowledge of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), when the Department of Homeland Security does not contemplate initiating deportation proceedings. PRUCOL does not confer any immigration status or rights and does not protect against deportation, however, it allows for the eligibility for certain public benefits (e.g. SSI). 24 (Watch for developments as the DHS changes policies around classes of individuals it seeks to deport.)
22 See Code Civ. Pro § 155(b).
23 See Welf & Inst. Code § 241.1 and Cal. Rule of Court 5.512.
24 See Second Circuit case of Berger v. Heckler (1985) 771 F.2d. 1556, and 42 CFR 435.406 (health), 20 CFR.1618 (SSI) for example. See also SB 4 (2015) that extends full-scope Medi-Cal to children under age 19, regardless of immigration status.