Articles

Yet More Need for Immigration Reform: Battered, Abandoned, Abused, and Neglected Immigrant Youth Are Permitted to Age-Out of Citizenship Status

In U.S. Government on January 5, 2010 by emgonz

A small category of immigrant children who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected by their families in their home countries have been ignored by our government and are being prevented from gaining citizenship status.  This subset of children has been categorized as Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJs).  In 1990, Congress added a new form for these youth to gain status to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJ Status), codified at INA Section 101(1)(27)(J).  Although this status exists, it is highly underutilized and there exist a greater problem to gaining SIJS.  The problem is that even if a SIJ qualifies and applies to gain SIJ Status, if their application is pending or processing at the time they reach the age of majority (eighteen or twenty-one depending upon the state), they will automatically age-out of SIJ Status and can no longer achieve citizenship through this means.

In 2008, this age-out problem was highlighted in a California District Court case, Perez-Olano v. Gonzalez.  In that case, the issue of allowing these neglected youth to age out of citizenship status was addressed and unfortunately, the court ultimately upheld the current age-out provision.  This ruling is tragic for these immigrant youth who have fled from their homes due to abandonment, abuse, or neglect by their own families.  Without SIJ Status, many of these youths have no other means to obtaining status at all.  Without citizenship status in the United States, these youth cannot obtain financial aid to obtain a higher education, they are without medical benefits, cannot seek employment, and much more. 

In response to this abuse, I have written a law article which will be published shortly.  In the article, I propose solutions to this problem and ultimately call for SIJs to stop aging out.  In other words, if the SIJ has an application in with the Department of Homeland Security before they reach the age of majority, which would otherwise have been granted but for the turning of their birthday before DHS has processed the application (which there are no restrictions on DHS processing time), the SIJ should not be permitted to age out of SIJ Status.  The United States should not be turning a cold should on these immigrant youth, who are some of the most vulnerable youth in the nation. 

For more on the topic, please look for the upcoming article entitled Battered Immigrant Youth Take the Beat: Special Immigrant Juveniles Permitted to Age-Out of Status to be published in the Seattle Journal for Social Justice through Seattle University School of Law.  If you have questions or would like to express your support, please contact the author Emily Gonzalez at gonzal14@seattleu.edu.  All support, insight, and inquiries are welcomed.  Also, please look for more to come as to what we can all do to help remedy the problem.  The purpose of this blog is to raise awareness of the SIJ age out issue, so please share with those you might know who would be interested—thank you!

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