Two thousand five hundred young people, out of a class of 2,800, in California have secured Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), ensuring that they can remain in the United States and lead safe, productive and healthy lives. SIJS is a form of humanitarian relief conferred on immigrant children who are placed in the custody of a state agency or individual appointed by a court because they faced abuse, abandonment, or neglect from their parents, and provides a pathway to citizenship.
This news comes in a compliance report required by the settlement procured in J.L. et al. v. Cuccinelli, et al., which challenged an unlawful Trump Administration policy that denied humanitarian relief to thousands of immigrant children in California. The plaintiffs, representing a class of 2,800 young people, brought this case in early 2018 when the federal government implemented an unlawful policy and began to deny petitions, refusing to recognize the authority of some California juvenile courts, despite their clear authority to make custody orders for children. Public Counsel anticipates more SIJS approvals for the remainder of the class in the coming months.
Plaintiffs faced extreme circumstances, as many who file for SIJS status do, including parental abuse and abandonment. Their trauma is further deepened by the prospect of returning to the countries they left where many face inconceivable danger.
These issues came to a head earlier this year when five members of the class were deported in violation of a Preliminary Injunction in the JL litigation. U.S. Magistrate Judge Cousins held the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in civil contempt, requiring that all five young people be returned to the United States by February 29.
“This settlement secured the rights of 2,800 immigrant youth in California and forced the Government to retract its egregious national policy. For class members, like Juanita, this means they finally have stability and the ability to pursue their dreams, knowing that they can remain in the United States,” said Mary Tanagho Ross, staff attorney at Public Counsel. “If not for this result, most of the class members likely would have been removed. Now they have what the law provides and what everyone person deserves –an opportunity to live free from harm.”
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one affected and I knew it was important to share my story. I did not realize at the time that this would result in the world opening up to me, with SIJS and now with a green card as well,” said Juliana*, a class member in J.L. et al. v. Cuccinelli, et al.
This case has served as the basis for similar lawsuits filed across the country, including in New York, New Jersey, and Washington ensuring that young people will continue to have an opportunity to be safe from harm, lead healthy productive lives and secure citizenship.
“Public Counsel will continue to hold the government accountable and fight to ensure that all immigrant children receive the protections they deserve,” said Sara Van Hofwegen, supervising staff attorney at Public Counsel. “The government must comply with the law and we will bring similar actions until all immigrants receive just and fair treatment.”
*Class member’s real name protected.