Legal Aid Society

Immigration Assistance for SIJS Recipients

The Legal Aid Society is proud to give a voice to immigrants in need. In the last two years, our work has become more important than ever before. President Trump has struck fear into the hearts of immigrant communities, launching destructive policies to tear families apart. Thankfully, The Legal Aid Society is standing firm in our defense of vulnerable New Yorkers. This year, with the support of BNY Mellon, we struck a major victory for young immigrants hoping to secure their legal status.

What is SIJS?

The Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, or SIJS, offers protections for immigrant children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected, allowing them to stay in this country legally and granting them a pathway to permanent residence and ultimately citizenship. Authorized by Congress in 1990, SIJS has helped thousands of young immigrants over the years.

President Trump’s Policy Change

In April 2018, the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services began rejecting SIJS applications from some young New Yorkers. While the protected status is available to anyone under 21, the administration denied applications for those who were over 18 but not yet 21 when they initially filed, arguing that New York City’s Family Courts lack jurisdiction for people over 18. This unlawful policy change threatened the status of thousands of young New Yorkers.

Fighting For Young Immigrants

Our Immigration Law Unit filed a lawsuit against the federal government in June 2018, advocating on behalf of the thousands of New Yorkers who had been unlawfully denied SIJS protections. After months of fighting, we finally won. Just a few weeks ago, a judge ruled in our favor, stating that the Trump administration had broken the law and wrongfully denied young immigrants the protections they deserve.

A Victory

The Legal Aid Society represents a young man in his twenties from the Dominican Republic who is the father of two U.S. citizen children. He came to the U.S. approximately sixteen years ago when he was about 11 years old to reunite with his grandmother, a U.S. citizen, who had convinced her grandson’s mother not to terminate her pregnancy. Our client’s father came to the United States before our client was born but did not maintain contact with him. At the time our client came to the US, his father was incarcerated and was deported shortly thereafter. This young man has spent a big part of his life as the caretaker of seriously ill family members: his aunt during her battle with breast cancer and subsequent high-risk pregnancy; his diabetic grandfather who depends on dialysis treatment; and his grandmother who also receives dialysis multiple times a week.

Our client was granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status based on abandonment by both of his parents and applied to become a lawful permanent resident as a defense to his deportation case. The Immigration Judge denied his case finding that his criminal record – which consists of a single misdemeanor conviction- outweighs the equities in his case, such as his longtime residence in the United States, his close relationship to his U.S. citizen children and family, and the hardship he will suffer upon deportation. Pro bono counsel is needed to represent our client on his appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, arguing that the Immigration Court abused its discretion in weighing the evidence on the record and that the judge failed to admit into evidence and consider documents showing rehabilitation, including his recently obtained high school equivalency diploma.