I recently joined JFCS Staff Attorney and Pro Bono Coordinator John Caviccho in a petition for an Interim Custody Order and permission to seek Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). The SIJS classification provides abused, abandoned and/or neglected children the ability to legally remain in the US.
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) and the Intersection of Immigration and Family Courts
The Honorable Judge Eleanor Bush allowed me to sit in as a guest and witness how the immigration courts and family courts intersect for children.
If a child (and their attorney) can prove in family court that he or she was abused, abandoned, or neglected by one of their parents, the SIJS statute may permit them to receive immigration relief. When granted, this relief provides protection from deportation from the US and also provides the possibility of permanent legal residency and a pathway to citizenship in the US (i.e., a green card).
As an attendee I was able to better understand the complexity involved with petitions required by USCIS in these sensitive cases.
In the case I observed, the children’s father abandoned them and their mother in Jamaica. He cut off all contact leaving their mother alone to care for them. Eventually she moved to the US, hoping to provide a better life for her children here.
At the same time the child is going through immigration court for removal proceedings, the child is also in family court.
When filing a request for SIJS status to USCIS, it’s important to remember that while the judge in family court has authority to make determinations about whether according to state law that the child was abandoned, abused and/or neglected, they have no authority over immigration matters.
In PA state law, abandonment can be willful abandonment as outlined in the case I was observing or accidental abandonment like the death of a parent. Once abandonment is determined, the family court judge will provide an order required to be submitted with the SIJS application to USCIS.
USCIS has the final say on whether or not to approve the application n for SIJS status that will allow the lawyers to request termination of removal proceedings in immigration court.
Supporting Evidence and Cultural Considerations in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) Cases
JFCS’s attorney, John Caviccho, was prepared to provide supporting evidence of abandonment by the childrens’ father as a core reason for why a SIJS-designation was appropriate and necessary for our clients., and included evidence supporting his case.
I also learned about some of the cultural background and ethical considerations experienced in cases involving children. For example, many children who grow up in the US will lose any other connection to their birth country—they may not speak any language other than English or even know where their parents are from—and so they may feel as though they already consider themselves Americans despite their parents’ status as undocumented immigrants.
In speaking with John following the hearing, he added, “We at JFCS are grateful for cooperation from local court officials in handling SIJS matters. Many of our clients have no opportunities for immigration relief aside from SIJS claims. Without this relief, these children could face deportation to home countries where they would face scarcity and violence. It is not an exaggeration to say these can be life and death decisions for our children.”
The lawyers at JFCS will continue to work with this youth to apply for SIJS before USCIS and terminate the removal proceedings and after 4-5 years, he will be allowed to apply for permanent residence status. This will allow the youth to live, study and work in the U.S. and hopefully one day become a citizen.
Getting Involved and Learning More
A special thank you John and the amazing JFCS Immigration Legal Services team for allowing me to see how these proceedings happen first hand.
To learn more about the services we provide immigrants looking for legal assistance, please visit jfcspgh.org/immigration.
If you would like to help, JFCS offers Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes throughout the year to train lawyers on the legal processes for immigrants.
These classes are held in partnership with the Allegheny County Bar Association and are open to all attorneys who want to learn more about immigration law.
Classes are held at the JFCS office, as well as remotely on Zoom. Please contact JFCS’s attorney, John Caviccho at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about upcoming CLE classes or if you would like to be added to our mailing list for announcements about future events.