Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.
When you think of abused, abandoned or neglected migrant children, you probably feel some sense of humanitarian concern. Unfortunately, it is fair to say that the Trump administration does not issue immigration policies that prioritize such concern. Consistent with its general intention to prevent immigration to the US, the Trump administration recently acted to deny immigration rights to certain abused, abandoned or neglected migrant children. However, on March 15, a Federal District Court Judge ruled against this Trump administration policy and in favor of the immigration rights of certain abused, abandoned or neglected minor children under the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) program (R.F.M. v. Nielsen, 18-cv-5068).
Created in 1990, the SIJS program has served as a legal pathway for unaccompanied minors under the age of 21, who have been abused, abandoned or neglected by one or both parents, to obtain lawful permanent residency and citizenship in the United States. In 2017, the Trump administration (without any change in the law or regulations related to SIJS, and without any public announcement until February, 2018) unilaterally decided that the SIJS program should not apply to SIJS applicants who are over 18 years old. In response, a class action lawsuit was filed by 5 SIJS applicants in New York who, between their eighteenth and twenty-first birthdays, were determined by the New York Family Court to have been abused, abandoned or neglected by one or both parents.
United States District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York John Koeltl ruled in favor of the class action plaintiffs, stating, “Because the agency’s policy is contrary to the plain language of the SIJ statute, lacks a reasoned explanation, is premised on erroneous interpretations of state law, and was not enacted with adequate notice, the policy is arbitrary and capricious . . . the policy must be set aside”. Thus, SIJS applicants between the ages of 18 and 21 should once again have their immigration rights restored under the SIJS program (while the decision in the case is specifically applicable to New York SIJS applicants, its reasoning should be applied to SIJS applicants in other states).
After the decision, Beth Krause, Supervising Attorney in the Immigration Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society, stated, “This sweeping decision leaves no doubt that UCSIS deliberately violated the rights of the most vulnerable, young immigrants – those who were abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents. . . . We are relieved that the federal courts have once again been willing to rein in the arbitrary and capricious policies of the Trump Administration”.
Can you imagine the burden on the 5 class action plaintiffs in the case? Already victims of child abuse, and facing the uncertainty and anxiety of being in a new country, they also had to face the trauma of the US government challenging their immigration rights. While the case shows that the Trump administration will attack immigration rights essentially without limit (even against one of the most vulnerable groups in society – abused, abandoned or neglected migrant children), it also demonstrates that litigation can protect immigration rights. If your immigration rights are being challenged in any manner, please contact us at the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-233-1000. We have had significant litigation experience in representing persons against the US government in protecting their immigration rights, and we can also work to represent you.