Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)
Q: What is Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)?
A: SIJS is an immigration classification that allows a youth to apply for legal residency (a green card). It does not, in and of itself, confer lawful presence in the country. However, it does clear a path to apply for, and receive a green card – and ultimately U.S. citizenship.
Q: So, should every immigrant child submit an SIJS application as soon as reunification services are terminated to at least one of their parents?
A: Not necessarily. Great care must be taken, and a competent immigration attorney should assess each child’s circumstances. Most advise that a child should not apply for SIJS status unless there is some confidence that it will be granted. Juvenile delinquency, criminal records, and other factors could affect what happens to the child, and strategies and options should be explored with an immigration attorney before it is wise for a child to make his or her presence known to the Department of Homeland Security. However, in most cases, SIJS is a very good (and often, the only) option for an undocumented child to be able to get immigration status.
Q: How does a child qualify for SIJS?
A: Generally, once reunification services are terminated to at least one of parent, the court can make findings sufficient to allow the child to apply for SIJS. Generally, the court must determine whether reunification with one or more 25 parent, “is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis found under State law” and (2) whether it would be in his “best interest to be returned to [his] ... previous country of nationality or country of last habitual residence.” The court will make orders on Judicial Council form JV-224. 26
Q: Who applies for SIJS for the child?
A: This varies from county to county, but the minor’s attorney has a duty to let the court know about the legal needs of the youth, and the court must “take whatever appropriate action is necessary to fully protect the interests of the child.” 27 This generally takes the form of the social service agency arranging for someone (that may include an immigration attorney) to handle the child’s SIJS and legal residency application.
Q: So SIJS is complicated! What do I need to remember as a CASA?
A: SIJS can be complicated, so remember to guard the confidentiality of the child’s immigration related information, and then: 1) ensure that the court is aware of the need, and makes SIJS findings, 2) advocate for an immigration attorney for the youth, 4) do not allow the case to be dismissed before SIJS is granted, and 3) try to get the youth to stay out of trouble with the law, and 4) help the youth gather important documents. Also, help the youth understand the process and make sure that the youth’s needs are being meet.
Q: Does the granting of SIJS mean the youth is safe from deportation?
A: No. SIJS is merely a classification that allows the youth to apply for legal residency, and get a “green card.” Therefore, it is important to stay focused on ensuring that the youth completes the adjustment of status application for legal residency.
Q: I am working with a youth who was adjudicated a 602 delinquent – can she qualify for SIJS even though she is not a 300 dependent?
A: Yes. The youth does not need to be a 300 dependent to qualify for SIJS; a dependency court can make SIJS findings, but so can other child custody courts, like family, delinquency or probate court. 28
Q: The youth was granted SIJS status and is waiting for his adjustment of status to become a legal resident. Does the juvenile case have to remain open?
A: It is safest to retain jurisdiction. However, if youth’s application was complete, filed before the youth turned 21 years old, and at the time of filing the youth was under a valid dependency order, then the application should still be good despite the fact that the dependency order was subsequently terminated based on age. 29 Still, if the case is dismissed after the youth turns 18, advocates recommend obtaining specific language in the juvenile court order terminating jurisdiction of the case that states that the case is being closed “due to age.” 30
Q: Can a child who gets a green card through SIJS petition for a green card for her parents or siblings?
A: If a child gets a green card through the SIJ program, that child can never petition for a green card for her parents. The youth is not barred from petitioning for a green card for siblings, however, the youth must wait until after she becomes a U.S. citizen. 31
Q: Are there any guides that can help understand the details of SIJS?
A: Yes indeed, there are several. Here are some detailed ones provided by Public Counsel and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center:
1) Public Counsel’s Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Manual, December 2010,
2) The Immigration Benchbook for Juvenile and Family Court Judges, July 2010, and
3) On Overview to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, December 2014.
25 See Eddie E. V. Superior Court (2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 319, see also In re Israel O. (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 279.
27 See Welf. & Inst. Code § 317.
28 See Code of Civ. Pro § 155. See also Leslie H. v. Superior Court (2014) 224 Cal.App.4th 340 (delinquency) and B.F. v. Superior Court (2012) 207 Cal.App.4th 621 (probate).
29 See terms of the Perez-Olano Settlement Agreement, specifically number 23 on page 7. More information online, available 2/21/17, here: https://www.uscis.gov/laws/legal-settlement-notices/settlement-agreement-perez-olano-et-al-v-holder-et-al-case-no-cv-05-3604-us-district-court-central-district-california.
30 See the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), and the document “An Overview of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status,” available on their website at: https://www.ilrc.org/sites/default/files/resources/sijs-4th-2015-ch_03.pdf.
31 United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, available 2/21/2017: https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/special-immigrant-juveniles/special-immigrant-juveniles-sij-status. See AB 130 (2011) and AB 131(2011). For more information see: http://www.e4fc.org/images/E4FC_CADAGuide.pdf.