Long Delays for Immigrant Youths

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By David M. Sperling, Esq.

A huge jump in applicants seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile status has created a backlog that will delay Green Cards for thousands of young Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans.

Until now, SIJ registration has provided a quick and easy pathway to Legal Permanent Resident status for Central American youths who could demonstrate that they have been abandoned, neglected or mistreated by one of their biological parents. In fact, a large percentage — perhaps a majority — of Salvadoran, Honduran and Guatemalan youths in deportation proceedings were eligible for this relief.

Now, however, these youths may have to wait six years or longer before they can apply for work permits or a Green Card.  SIJ-eligible youths from other countries remain eligible for speedy processing, although that is also likely to change. Mexican SIJ applicants will likely face additional lengthy delays in the next few months.

Each year, there are about 10,000 visas available in the EB-4 category of Special Immigrant Juveniles. Because not all those visas were used in the past, there was no need to wait for a  future “priority date” to file for Adjustment of Status to Legal Permanent Resident. But the surge of minors from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala over the past few years has dramatically increased the number of SIJ applications.

The May 2016 “priority date” for SIJ-approved Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans     is now Jan. 1, 2010 .– which will almost certainly delay processing for many years. That date does not necessarily determine the wait time, since “priority dates” are unpredictable and change monthly.  Sometimes the dates “retrogress” or move backward.

The good news is that minors can still apply for SIJ status through an I-360 Petition. It is likely that the immigration judges will not issue deportation orders, but will rather simply close out those cases.

Generally speaking, anyone who comes to the United States illegally cannot “adjust status” in the United States, but must return to their home counties for consular processing. The major exceptions are for asylum, Cancellation of Removal (the 10-year law) and SIJ.

While SIJ will no longer provide a speedy remedy for Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran youths, there remains a special remedy for unaccompanied children under 18 who enter the United States seeking refuge, and are apprehended. These children will often qualify to have their asylum cases first heard before the Asylum Office under more lenient guidelines than the Immigration Court.

These cases involving youths are complicated, and require not only an experienced Immigration attorney, but also a lawyer who can handle Family Court cases.  Eligible youth must obtain Family Court approval before they turn 21 years old to qualify for SIJ status.

It is strongly recommended that any youths who might potentially be eligible for SIJ status to immediately consult an experienced immigration attorney.


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