Ask an Immigration Lawyer: Will Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Be Granted After Applicants Turn 21?

Art by Alan López for Remezcla

It’s a frightening time for immigrants. Although previous presidents have deported immigrants in large numbers, many – especially those without criminal records – felt a relative sense of normalcy. But with an administration that is outwardly hostile toward immigrant populations, any comfort previously felt is gone. As Donald Trump attempts to tighten immigration laws and cut down on even legal forms of migration into the United States, it can be difficult to keep up with the changing landscape.

That’s why we have launched the Ask an Immigration Lawyer column. Twice a month, Nubia Willman – a Chicago-based immigration attorney with nearly decade of experience – answers your questions about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and more. This column is not meant to be construed as legal advice. You should not act upon any information provided without seeking the advice of an attorney licensed to practice law in your state. 

Submit a question here and check out previous columns here.

Dear Nubia: Our agency refers undocumented minors in the foster care system for special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS). The process has become significantly delayed by the new administration. There are a few foster youth who will be turning 21 years old. I want to know: Will their applications be honored after their 21st birthday?

–Frustrated in OC

Dear Frustrated: In theory, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) should be a straightforward remedy available for children and young adults who were mistreated. Created in 1990, SIJS allows a person who has been abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent to apply for special status that will allow them to become lawful permanent residents in the future.

Generally, different state courts have the power to determine whether one is abused, abandoned, or neglected. Then, with that determination, the youth must apply for SIJS with Immigration before they turn 21. Immigration aims to process each application within six months, but as you’re experiencing now, applications become backlogged. Luckily, in 2008, Congress recognized the possibility of an applicant aging-out and included “age-out” protections for SIJS applicants through the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). So if the youth you work with filed their application before turning 21, the petitions should still be adjudicated even after they turn 21.

But Frustrated, there is one small caveat that may explain the delays you experienced. Recently, this administration began denying applications for SIJS applicants who were between the ages of 18-20. The government’s argument contravened established protocol of who is normally eligible for this remedy and didn’t hold much merit or credibility as to why they were denying those applications. Litigation was initiated by immigrants’ rights attorneys and in late 2018 a federal judge issued an order stopping this practice. It is very possible that those applications you’ve been waiting on may finally be decided based on established regulations that will allow the unaccompanied youth you work with to move on with their lives.


Disclaimer: The information on this column is not legal advice. Legal information is not the same as legal advice, which is the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. The information provided in this column is not a substitute for and does not replace the advice or representation of a licensed attorney. Although Remezcla goes to great lengths to make sure the information on the column is accurate and up to date, we make no claim as to the accuracy of this information and are not responsible for any consequences that may result from the use of this column.

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