With Congress, the Executive Branch, and the federal judiciary at odds over how to mend the country’s broken immigration system, now, more than ever, is the time to promote positive changes in state legislation for immigrants.
To those ends, a group of students and experts in immigration and family law from American Friends Service Committee, the Child Advocacy Clinic at Rutgers University School of Law—Newark, Fordham Law’s Feerick Center for Social Justice, and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, have developed model statutory language aimed at promoting uniformity across jurisdictions as well as the right of all Special Immigrant Juvenile Status-eligible immigrant children to access their respective state court systems. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, offered pro bono support. The project was part of a broader effort funded with a grant of $200,000 over the course of two years.
The model state statute titled “Special Provisions for Immigrant Youth: A Model State Statute”, was prepared to help overcome jurisdictional barriers and achieve consistency across states for immigrant youth. The working group contacted specialized lawyers practicing in 10 states where immigrants have traditionally settled to help prepare the new model statute. They are New York, California, Nevada, Texas, New Jersey, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, Maryland, and Illinois.
“Special Provisions for Immigrant Youth: A Model State Statute” aspires to:
• Promote uniformity and flexibility across state systems to fully implement the intent of the federal law as well as the spirit of state child welfare laws which seek to protect vulnerable young people.
• Ensure maximum access to state courts in order to obtain the requisite factual findings so that immigrant youth can apply to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS) for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).
• Align state law with federal law to ensure that SIJS is available to immigrant youth up to age 21.
• Provide clarity on a number of substantive and procedural issues that typically arise in SIJS cases.
“The time is overdue for state legislative action to ensure that all children and youth who are eligible for SIJS have access to state courts,” said Dora Galacatos, Executive Director of the Feerick Center for Social Justice.
SIJS, created by Congress in 1990, seeks to protect a population of youth who have faced significant struggles from returning to situations where they will not be safe. SIJS eligibility was expanded in 2008 under the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the number of unaccompanied immigrant children entering the United States has grown dramatically in recent years, from 6,000 children in 2011 to an estimated 60,000 in 2014. Also, in 2014 approximately 25 percent of unaccompanied immigrant children were under the age of 14, and about one-third of the unaccompanied immigrant children were girls. Given the rise in numbers of arriving unaccompanied children and the expanded eligibility requirements for SIJS, states must ensure that children and youth have access to their court systems.
Access the complete statute on the Feerick Center’s Publications page.