Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: A Pathway to Citizenship for Undocumented Children through the New York Family Court

One of the big issues in New York Family Law centers around immigration. It is very common for relatives in the United States---siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents---to want to help bring over those they love.

In many recent cases, the person they want to bring over is a child. However, coming to the United States is not easy and options for bringing over a younger loved one can be limited. This can be especially worrying and frustrating when the child or teen has no one to take care of them back home and their health, safety, or education are at risk. Often, the child will be brought across the border---sometimes immediately going to the custody of a relative, sometimes being detained by immigration officials in between.

However, there is an option for legal status for these kids that many people are not aware of; that is designed particularly for children with no one to care for them in their home country.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.

Known as SIJS, this status operates as a pathway for children to come live with family members in the United States where they are abandoned by their parents and at risk in their home country.

Specifically, in order to qualify for SIJS, an applicant must meet the following requirements:

  1. The applicant must be under the age of 21;
  1. Unmarried;

It is important to note that while an applicant cannot be married, they are permitted to have children.

  1. Declared a dependent in a juvenile court of the state in which they reside;

What this means is that the Family Court of the county they are currently living in in the United States must accept jurisdiction over a petition that deals with the needs of the child applying. This petition is usually a guardianship petition, where the relative seeking to care for the child applies to have the child declared independent (in addition to the court declaring the other factors listed here, known as "Special Findings") and themselves appointed Guardian of the child.

  1. Reunification with one or both of the child's parents is no longer a viable option; and

This means the child's parents must be deceased, or the child must have been abandoned. In New York, six months or more without contact or financial or emotional support, with no intent to resume the relationship can qualify.

However, in New York, a parent can be appointed a natural guardian if the other qualifications are met.

  1. It is not in the child's best interests to return to their country of origin.

Some of the issues that make it unsafe for a child to return to their home country include gang violence, domestic violence, homelessness, and a lack of living relatives in their area. Often, a child applying for SIJS faces a combination of these factors.

If the above qualifications are met, a child will apply for SIJS by the relative seeking to care for them applying, as stated above, for guardianship or custody in the Family Court of the county in which they reside. They will also file for special findings, or a statement from the court declaring that the child means the qualifications for SIJS.

Once this occurs, the child can apply for SIJS status through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

Receiving SIJS status provides a lot of benefits to the child who attains it. This includes work authorization and legal permanent residence. This applies even if the child entered the country without a legal status.

Therefore, if you are a parent or other relative with a minor child without status in your care, consider applying for SIJS, as it may be the best way to ensure their future and provide opportunities here in the United States.

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