Attorney General Ford Pushes Back Against Federal Move to Weaken Immigration Protections for Abused Children
Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford has joined a coalition of 17 attorneys general who are opposing a pending federal that would undermine children’s access to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJ). SIJ protects abused, neglected and abandoned children by allowing them to become legal residents and eventually U.S. citizens. The newly proposed federal rule requires individuals seeking protection under SIJ to needlessly repeat steps with the federal government that would have already been lawfully handled by state juvenile courts.
In a comment letter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the coalition calls on the Trump Administration to overhaul this proposed rule, which risks inflicting additional trauma on thousands of already vulnerable children. In the 2018 fiscal year alone, there were 21,917 SIJ applications nationwide. Between October 2013 and September 2019, adult sponsors in Nevada welcomed 1,331 unaccompanied children, many of whom are eligible for SIJ.
“Protecting the health, safety and well-being of immigrant children in our communities who have been abused or abandoned is not a one-size-fits-all determination that can be made by the federal government,” said AG Ford. “Circumstances beyond their control have left these children vulnerable, and I’m urging the federal government to reconsider this proposal that weakens much-needed protections for this young population.”
The Trump Administration’s proposal threatens to undercut SIJ protections that have existed for decades. Under the current process, state juvenile courts have the authority to issue orders that can enable a child to be eligible for SIJ if a child is unable to reunify with a parent because of abuse, neglect or abandonment as outlined under state law. Once an order has been issued, the child can apply for SIJ. Then USCIS has 180 days to make a decision on the application.
Regrettably, the proposed rule on SIJ creates new layers of red tape that increase the burden on children. The federal government is now asking for the submission of additional evidence to USCIS that reunification is not viable under state law, despite the fact that a state court would have already made that determination in a court order. Furthermore, it is unclear how USCIS’ personnel would be equipped to interpret and make decisions on the multitude of laws across 50 states, as well as the laws of tribal organizations or territories under the administrative control of the U.S. government. In their comment letter, the coalition notes that it is not USCIS’ role to second-guess determinations already lawfully made by state courts.
In addition to Nevada, attorneys general from the following states and territory also participated in today’s comment letter: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.