For many years, the biggest influx of immigrants flowing across the United States border not at ports of entry with Mexico was children from Central America, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. As of late, those numbers of undocumented children are increasing, which prompted Obama last year to declare the issue a humanitarian crisis.
When the children arrive, many turn themselves into authorities or are arrested. From there, they are sent to a detention center where they enter the legal system so they can be removed from the United States from an immigration court. However, a court date is often placed years in the future due to massive delays in the system; therefore, the Department of Health and Human Services takes the children and places them with a parent or family member already in the United States, or in foster care. While waiting for a court appearance, many qualify for the Special Immigrant Juveniles Status.
With regards to how one achieves Special Immigrant Juveniles Status, the child must go to a state juvenile or probate court, where they must explain to a judge that they are in need of protection because they have been abused, neglected or abandoned in their home country, and can’t be safely returned there. If the judge agrees, then the minors can file a form that allows them to stay within the United States, and possibly permanent resident status. However, due to the increase in children, many of the judges have been more stringent on the allowance of these children into the U.S. This is compounded by the fact that many individuals in Congress see this status as a problem.
Two bills are on the floor currently that address Special Immigrant Juveniles Status, the first being that the definition of an “unaccompanied minor” would be changed to exclude juveniles who have a relative, sibling, or close family member already in the United States. Secondly, the status would be modified to allow only minors to seek status if a court finds they were abandoned by both parents. Many people see the law as overdo for modification, yet many see it as a cruel way to exclude persecuted children from safety.
OUR VERDICT: Most petitions were accepted last year and the years previously; however, this has the opportunity to exclude significant parts of the population. Support has risen to reform the law, but keep a close eye on how much actually is reformed. There is sure to be push-back, since this is an extremely divisive debate.