Big Win in RILA’s First Special Immigrant Juvenile Case

This week, RILA is celebrating a landmark decision for one of our clients! On December 14, 2018 we had our first court date for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status client, Jose, the day before his fourteenth birthday. 

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) allows immigrant children who meet certain criteria to obtain lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, also known as acquiring a Green Card. SIJS is unique among immigration remedies in that it requires the involvement of a state juvenile court. In order for a child to be eligible for SIJS, their state juvenile court must determine that, among other things, the child’s reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, abandonment or neglect, and it is in the child’s best interest to remain in the US and not be returned to their home country. The state court is not being asked to grant a child lawful immigration status; that responsibility lies solely with US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The state court’s role in the SIJS process is simply to determine that the facts of the child’s case make them eligible for SIJS. The involvement of a state court in the SIJS process is because they are best suited to make findings relating to matters of family law or child protection.

On Friday, Jason, our Legal Director, and Emily Smith, one of our Legal Advocates, accompanied Jose and his mom to Fairfax Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. In court the judge asked Jason to offer the facts of the custody petition that had been filed with the court. This included that Jose’s father had abandoned him and not provided any financial or emotional support and that his mother was petitioning for sole custody. Jose’s mother confirmed these details. The judge then signed the predicate order stating that he determined that Jose is eligible for SIJS! This is a big win for us as it was our first SIJS case and we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We are very excited for Jose!

 Now that the judge has signed the SIJS predicate order, Jose may proceed with the immigration phase of the case by submitting the SIJS petition to USCIS. Most importantly, it provides the basis for him to adjust his immigration status and become a lawful permanent resident (LPR). A person with LPR status can live and work permanently in the US, travel outside of the US, is eligible for certain public benefits, and can ultimately apply for US citizenship.

This is a huge milestone for Jose, but we still have some work to do to finalize his case. Next, we will file Form I-360, Petition for Special Immigrant, with USCIS and include the signed predicate order from the judge. USCIS usually processes these forms within 6 months. Upon the receipt of an approved SIJS petition from USCIS, the last step is for Jose to file an application for adjustment of status, Form I-485, to become an LPR of the United States. Due to a backlog of SIJS applicants this wait for LPR status could be up to 3 years, but in the meantime, Jose is eligible to continue living in the U.S. and attending school. 

We have three upcoming court dates for SIJS cases, four cases that are almost ready to be filed, and eleven more cases currently on our to-do list. So, we have a lot of work to do for our SIJS clients in the coming months, and it’s exciting to start out with such a big win!

Heather Hall