A proposed class action lawsuit alleges that US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, operates in contradiction to established policy by improperly denying and delaying petitions for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) for those who obtain predicate SIJS orders after turning 18 but before turning 21.
Filed in Washington, the lawsuit explains that Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is granted to applicants under 21 years old who face risks to their welfare, such as abuse or neglect by parents, should they return to their home country. The suit says this immigration option provides humanitarian relief to at-risk youth by establishing a long-term path to lawful permanent residency.
Under the SIJS statute, Congress assigned separate roles to state and federal agencies for which state courts have the authority to determine whether applicants meet child welfare qualifications and USCIS, while relying on state court findings, is tasked with verifying other immigration requirements, the case continues. Beginning in February 2018, however, USCIS allegedly began imposing new requirements that challenge the jurisdiction of state courts. Under these new requirements, the lawsuit says, the state court reviewing SIJS applications must have the jurisdiction to return children to parental custody in order to rule that reunification is not a viable option. The suit argues these new procedures are in place as a means to issue blanket denials of SIJS to qualified youth. From the complaint:
“Under this arbitrary policy, USCIS has denied or threatened to deny the SIJS petitions submitted by youth who obtained SIJS orders from Washington state courts after turning 18, even though they clearly meet all eligibility criteria."
The case charges that USCIS has violated the Immigration and Nationality Act by refusing to adjudicate SIJS petitions. Additionally, the suit notes that the federal agency’s actions are not in line with the Administrative Procedure Act, as challenging state courts oversteps its jurisdiction.