Immigration relief—including permanent residence—may be available to children who are at risk, or who were abandoned, abused, or neglected by a parent.

The Special Immigrant Juvenile Status program is a unique immigration law allowing certain children to obtain legal status in the United States. If a child has been abandoned, abused, or neglected by at least one parent, he or she may qualify for a special status—and eventually lawful permanent residence (a “green card”).

Many abandoned, abused, or neglected children arrive to the United States with one parent after the other parent stops supporting their child. Many other children arrive after a parent has died. Other children come to the United States alone, some because their parents can no longer care for them. Furthermore, many children seek protection in the United States because of widespread violence, war, gangs, poverty, delinquency, or crime. Despite the challenges these children face, they may qualify for special immigration benefits. Regardless of how these children arrived in the United States—even if they arrived with no visa or papers—they may qualify for immigration relief and a pathway to permanent residence.

Children eligible for the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) program are often seeking protection from neglect, abuse, or abandonment at the hands of one or both of their parents. The neglect, abuse, or abandonment may have happened in their home country or somewhere else, including the United States. Children living with only one parent, a relative, in foster care or a shelter, or in state (DCS) custody may qualify.

For these minors, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status is a way to gain immigration status. Below, our Tennessee immigration lawyer explains more about this path to permanent residence and, eventually, citizenship in the United States.

How to Qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status helps some undocumented young people obtain a work permit and permanent residence. Under current law, for a person to qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the child must be:

  • A “child” under the immigration law,
  • Residing in the United States,
  • Unmarried, and
  • Have an order with certain findings from a juvenile court.

After the immigration service determines the person qualifies for SIJS, they can apply for and obtain employment authorization (a work permit) and later lawful permanent residency. Then, after five years, they can pursue U.S. Citizenship.

Obtaining the Court Order

One of the most important qualifying criteria for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status is the court order.

  • First, the order must come from a state court that has jurisdiction over the juvenile. In Tennessee, a juvenile is under 18 years old. The court must determine that the minor is dependent on the court, a state agency, or an individual appointed by the court.
  • Second, the order must also state that the minor cannot be reunited with one or both of their parents due to neglect, abuse, abandonment, or any similar basis under state law. Neglect, abuse, and abandonment have specific legal meanings, and an attorney may help assess whether a child has been neglected (for example, lack of support or visitation from a parent or lack of medical attention, education, food, or safety), abused, or abandoned (such as lacking support or visitation from a parent).
  • Third, the court must determine that it is in the best interests of the child not to return to their home country.

The court must also make specific findings regarding the neglect, abuse, or abandonment the child has suffered from one or both of their parents, such as a parent leaving the child without adequate child support, health care, education, visitation, or protection.

In Tennessee, an attorney may assist in preparing necessary paperwork and requesting the order from a juvenile court or chancery court. Often, attorneys assist in obtaining the required order by petitioning the court for guardianship. In a guardianship, an adult is granted the legal authority to act on behalf of and care for the child. Our attorneys in Nashville have helped families obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile guardianship orders across Tennessee and file the necessary paperwork with the immigration service.

Common Issues Regarding Special Immigration Juvenile Status

There are important issues that can arise surrounding Special Immigration Juvenile Status. These are as follows:

  • A minor must have been neglected, abused, or abandoned by just one parent, not both. Many people do not realize this, and they do not apply even though they qualify. An attorney can help identify if a child has been neglected, abused, or abandoned.
  • Because of recent changes in federal policy, when the immigration service approves a Special Immigrant Juvenile petition, the person may be granted deferred action (protection from deportation) and can apply for a work permit. Deferred action authorizes a person to be present in the United States but is at the government’s discretion. A work permit allows the young person to obtain a Social Security number and driver’s license in Tennessee.
  • Under new rules, the Special Immigrant Juvenile must remain unmarried until the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approves his or her petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (Form I-360), but he or she can be married when applying for adjustment of status (lawful permanent residence inside the United States).
  • SIJS has many immigration benefits. For example, people granted SIJS are not subject to certain some requirements for their permanent residency (green card) and don’t need to apply for certain waivers. They can obtain green cards in the United States even if they entered unlawfully.

Our Immigration Lawyers in Nashville Can Assist With Your Case

Life in a new country is difficult enough for an adult, but children are especially vulnerable to struggling to adapt to a new “normal” in a foreign land—especially those who have already experienced profound difficulties in their native countries.

Since children are especially vulnerable to trauma and disruption, depend on adults for their wellbeing, and lack the ability to adequately protect themselves, the law provides them special protections. Among the many laws that protect children, American immigration law appreciates that children without legal status who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected deserve particular care.

At Ozment Law, our Tennessee immigration lawyers can help you or undocumented children you love navigate the system and apply for Special Immigration Juvenile Status. Call us now at 615-321-8888 or complete our online form to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help.

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