Legal Aid Society

A Day In The Life

Advocating for Vulnerable Youth in the Immigration Law Unit

Since 2016, Elizabeth “Liz” Rieser-Murphy has aided with multiple immigration crises, adapting to changing policies under two very different administrations. But, amongst all the changing legislation, what has stayed consistent is her unwavering dedication to representing youth coming to the United States for a better life.

Even outside of our day-to-day work, our Immigration Law Unit staff are like first responders,” she says. Alongside her Legal Aid colleagues, she hustled to JFK during the early days of the Trump Administration when a travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries was enforced. During the 2021 evacuation from Afghanistan, she helped with humanitarian parole petitions for a couple and their newborn baby, whose family were US Citizens. 

Even when immigration is not front-page news, she is still a champion for her clients – through both her direct work with unaccompanied minors released to their families in NYC, and through her litigation and advocacy work. “My hope for the future is that immigration court and overall system will become more child friendly and will focus on the best interest of the children instead of acting as a deportation machine.”  

Our Immigration Law Unit staff are like first responders.

Most recently, Liz has focused on Special Immigrant Juveniles Status (SIJS) cases, in which immigrant children under 21 years old are unable to reunify with their parents because of abuse, abandonment, or neglect, but returning to their home country is not in their best interest.”

Obtaining this special status is critical because it allows immigrant youth to apply for lawful permanent residency.  However, SIJS green card application process is categorized as “employment-based”, despite SIJS being a humanitarian status.  For children from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, these children are in a visa applicant pool alongside adults seeking employment, and there are not enough green cards available. The latest data indicates that 26,000 children have been granted SJIS status, but are unable to apply for a green card. This delays their permanent residency, meaning these neglected teens live at the mercy of Homeland Security.  Without employment authorization, they cannot open a bank account or enroll in college. “It’s already anxiety provoking to be a teenager and you add this on top of it” Liz explains. “I work with many clients who have been stuck in limbo for years.” 

After seeing how many children had been granted SJIS status, but anxiously waiting for a green card, Liz began doing advocacy work on Capitol Hill with the SIJS Backlog Coalition’s steering committee. For the tens of thousands of children in the backlog, having a strong voice like Liz’s brings them closer to shedding an undocumented status and beginning the life they truly deserve.

Liz is currently happy to be operating under more favorable immigration policies that center the well-being of children and considers their unique circumstances. “My hope is that the future is bright and that we continue on this path.”

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