Amelia is a 16-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic. Her relationship with her parents was never good: they abused her frequently, leaving her with some injuries that never completely healed. From the age of six onward, she was given work responsibilities that were inappropriate for someone so young. At the age of 15, after being kicked out of the house, she went to the U.S. via Mexico to find an aunt who had always treated her kindly and now lived in Florida.
When immigration officials stopped Amelia after she entered the country without inspection, a social worker from the Office of Refugee Resettlement contacted her aunt, who agreed to take her in. The juvenile court who heard Amelia’s case concluded that she had been abused and abandoned by her parents and that returning to the Dominican Republic was not in her best interests. Amelia may now apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status.
What Is Special Immigrant Juvenile Status?
Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status is an immigrant classification created by Congress in 1990. It is designed to protect vulnerable children and remains available to young immigrants under 21 who have been mistreated, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents. Once granted SIJ status, a child becomes eligible to apply for permanent residence in the U.S.
Who Is Eligible?
SIJ status is available for young unmarried immigrants under the age of 21 who are physically in the U.S. and have a qualifying juvenile court order with the following findings:
The child is dependent on the court or is the legal custody of an agency (e.g., the state’s child welfare system) or a person appointed by the juvenile court.
Returning them to one or both parents is not advisable due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.
Going back to their country of origin is not in their best interests
What is the Application Process for SIJ Status?
After obtaining the qualifying juvenile court order, the young person and their representative must apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and provide the following documents:
Evidence of the child’s age, such as birth certificate, passport, or identity card issued by a foreign government.
The qualifying juvenile court order
Form G-28 (if the child has an attorney or accredited representative)
If the petition is approved, the young person may be eligible to apply for lawful permanent resident status by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
Are There Any Important Deadlines?
In Florida, it is important to obtain the qualifying juvenile court order as soon as possible. The juvenile court must have jurisdiction until the SIJ petition and application for permanent residency are both approved, and if the child is over age 18, it will be too late to start the process. Any young person who has passed the age limit may, however, still qualify for other immigration benefits, such as a U visa or asylum.
If you are a young immigrant who has experienced terrible home conditions and want to build a new future here, you should contact a Florida immigration attorney as soon as possible. Jarbath Pena Law Group has helped many young people obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile classification and looks forward to seeing you secure a better life as a legal American citizen. For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact us.