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A classification to protect abused young immigrants

There have been a lot of recent news stories concerning young immigrants and young refugees to California and the rest of the United States. It is worthwhile to point out that the U.S. government does provide protections for young immigrants who are abused, abandoned or neglected by their parents or other custodians. According to the Department of Homeland Security website, if such abuse can be proven, immigrant children may receive Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status.

There are a number of circumstances that may qualify a young immigrant for SIJ protection. A document found on the DHS website lists several of these qualifications, including:

  • Children that have suffered abuse prior to entering the U.S.
  • Children that have been abused in the U.S.
  • Children in custody under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Children in custody under the Office of Refugee Resettlement
  • Children in custody under the Unaccompanied Children’s Services Program

Additionally, children who have been placed in the custody of a state’s child welfare system are also eligible for SIJ protection. This may include immigrant children who are in foster care or ones put in custody of an entity or a person appointed by a juvenile or a state court.

The initial purpose of the SIJ classification was to offer protection for abused child immigrants eligable for long term foster care. However, this protection has since expanded to include children that are unable to reunite with one or both of their parents due to abandonment, neglect, abuse or any similar form of mistreatment under state law. A child does not have to be determined eligible for prolonged foster care, but a juvenile court must still find that reuniting with a parent or both parents is not a workable outcome.

Finally, the Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act (TVPRA 2008) has also added protections for young immigrants who have filed for SIJ but then turned twenty-one years old before their case could be adjudicated. These protections mean that an individual cannot be denied SIJ status solely because that person reached the age of twenty-one since filing the petition, preventing applying immigrants from "aging out" of SIJ protections.  

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