Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: The Secret Dream Act

October 22, 2013

For several years, advocates have pushed Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would provide permanent resident status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. However, Congress has repeatedly failed to pass the legislation. In frustration, President Obama announced a policy of "deferred action" for such immigrants. While better than nothing, deferred action has its limitations. It is only good for two years, it does not provide any lawful status, and it can be revoked at any time by a future administration. While it removes the threat of immediate deportation for those who get it, it does not put them on a solid path to legal status, much less citizenship. If immigration reform or the Dream Act don't pass again this year, what should child immigrants do?

The reality is that many child immigrants are eligible to become permanent residents, and eventually citizens, today under current law -- they just don't know it. There are many immigrants under 21 who would benefit from a program called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) that has gotten a lot less attention in the media than the Dream Act, but can help a lot more people today. When deferred action for Dreamers started last year, and held a few workshops to help people apply, I always found a few children who were eligible for SIJS, and had been for years, but did not know it. So, how do you get SIJS? You must show that (i) you are under 21 and unmarried, (ii) you have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both of your parents, (iii) you have been appointed to someone's custody by a court, and (iv) it is not in your best interest to return to your home country.

There is a misconception that SIJS is only for abused and neglected children. The reality is that most SIJS applications I have done have been with kids who have not been mistreated and continue to live with a parent or relative. Essentially anyone under 21 who does not live with both parents at home should be able to get SIJS with the right immigration lawyer. A closer look at the requirements shows how it works. If you live with either your mother or your father but not both, you can claim that you were "abandoned" by one of your parents. You then go to a court and get the necessary order.

In Texas, the order you want is often a SAPCR but it could take other forms depending on the circumstances. Within the order, you also include the finding that your best interest is to stay in the U.S. As long as you are still under 21 and unmarried when you do these things, you are eligible for SIJS and permanent residency status. Again, any alien under 21 who does not live in a house with both biological parents should be able to do this with the proper legal help. You will continue to hear a lot of talk about the Dream Act, and it would be good if it does pass. But the reality is that many of the people who would benefit from it can already get the same thing under existing law. They just don't know about it. If you have more questions about the Dream Act, contact the San Antonio immigration attorneys at Salmon-Haas.

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