This week The Door and The End SIJS Backlog Coalition issued a report showing how youth approved for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) have been stuck in a backlog, waiting in limbo to get permanent status in the United States. The report includes important new data on the issue, information from interviews with youth, and recommendations for policy change. The report is titled “Any Day They Could Deport Me”: Over 44,000 Immigrant Children Trapped in the SIJS Backlog. The report was co-authored by Rachel Davidson of The Door and Laila Hlass Professor of Practice at Tulane Law School and as a result of collaborative efforts including work by youth researchers Maria Huerta Rodriguez and Ivonne Silva and efforts to analyze data by the Migration Policy Institute.
Children who have been abused, abandoned, and/or neglected must go through many steps to seek and ultimately be approved for SIJS, including going to state court and applying for the legal protection before an immigration agency while also typically navigating removal proceedings in immigration court. Even though children and youth have gone through many steps, have been found to meet certain requirements and approved for SIJS, they are still not protected in many ways and are left in a limbo for years.
The report includes an analysis of data regarding SIJS applications and SIJS-based green cards received after suing USCIS under the Freedom of Information Act. Children and youth from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico wait anywhere from two to five years for their green cards after being approved for SIJS. While they wait, “®hey cannot work lawfully, cannot access federal financial aid for college, struggle to age out of foster care into independent adulthood, and often find themselves at risk of homelessness, trafficking, wage theft and deportation—the exact harms that SIJS was created to protect these children from” as stated in the report’s Executive Summary.
Additionally, children and youth are not provided appointed attorneys in immigration court, and many children and youth must represent themselves while their cases, and sometimes, lives are at stake. The report also found, “®he SIJS backlog has a negative impact on access to representation for immigrant youth.” Nonprofit organizations do not have capacity to represent all children and youth in immigration proceedings, and many times pro bono attorneys must fill that gap, but there is also not enough pro bono engagement to meet the need.
The report shows how the backlog negatively impacts children and youth and burdens child welfare advocates and immigration legal providers, as well as agencies and immigration courts. The report also details specific actions that can help end the SIJS backlog and provide children the protection they need, protection that was intended when they were granted SIJS.
CILA’s Director Dalia Castillo-Granados is on the End SIJS Backlog Steering Committee and previously wrote a blog post on the issues: A Long Wait for Special Immigrant Juveniles Means a Risk of Deportation. The American Bar Association (ABA) adopted a SIJS policy resolution during the 2021 ABA Midyear Meeting seeking protection for SIJS beneficiaries.
Get Involved to Help Youth
Help Youth Seek SIJS Protection: There are currently nearly 60 pro bono opportunities nationwide posted on CILA’s platform, Pro Bono Matters for Children Facing Deportation, to help children and youth seeking protection in the United States, and many of these youth are seeking SIJS relief.
Help Youth Affected by the Backlog: The End SIJS Backlog Coalition provides ways to advocate and get involved on their website.