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Posts tagged ‘Special Immigrant Juvenile Status’

ICE: Deporting Our Abused, Abandoned and Neglected Children

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) has the power to deport, but it also has the power to issue bonds and parole immigrants into the United States.  Many guidelines have been made regarding ICE’s power of “prosecutorial discretion,” indicating which humanitarian considerations should be taken into account, and how.  Minors are one consideration, but there are no guidelines for children eligible for special immigrant juvenile status (“SIJS”).  The consequences are devastating.

Juveniles under the age of 18 are taken into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement and released to an adult caregiver, but juveniles between the age of 18 and 21 are treated like adults– like criminals in adult detention facilities.

Under the federal regulations defining SIJS, the U.S. government considers anyone under the age of 21 to be a child.  In many States, individuals under the age of 21 are considered minors, and can be placed in the care of an adult who makes medical, educational, and legal decisions on their behalf.

Minors under the age of 21 who have been abandoned, neglected or abused by either one or both parents are classified as “special immigrant juveniles” and they are eligible for their green card.  But what happens when they come into the U.S. and are detained by DHS near the border?   Quite simply, ICE deports these abandoned, abused, and neglected children.  The lack of a specific and comprehensive prosecutorial discretion policy for these juveniles is inexcusable.

Let us look at the examples of two of our clients, who are currently at immediate risk of being deported because of ICE’s inhumane actions.  Let us call them “Ana” and “Jose” to protect their confidentiality.

Ana’s story.  Ana is a 19-year old citizen of El Salvador, who was abandoned by both parents when she was only one year old.  She was raised her whole life by her grandmother, who does not work and depends entirely on the charity of family members in the United States.   Her grandfather was killed when she was two years old, right next door to her.

Recently, Ana witnessed a man being killed in front of their home.  Because she was a crime witness, gang members told her that she had to join them, or she would be killed because of what she witnessed. One day a man attempted to rape her.   Because of Ana’s terrifying situation and lack of support, she fled El Salvador for the safety of our shores.

Because she has no parents, she was left even more vulnerable to the threats of gang members. She had no adult to protect her, or to give her guidance in the greatest time of need in her life.

Because of erroneous decisions by the asylum office and an immigration judge, her credible fear interview to determine whether she would be able to apply for asylum was denied.

But this should not matter. She should never have had to been detained for weeks to wait for an asylum interview. She should have been paroled immediately into the United States to be able to pursue her green card through special immigrant juvenile status.

On November 15, 2013, I filed an Application for a Stay of her Removal with the San Francisco Enforcement and Removal (“ERO”) Field Office, because Ana is an abandoned and neglected child who is eligible for her green card based on special immigrant juvenile status. Ana’s deportation officer told her that her deportation is scheduled for this Saturday.

Jose’s story.  Jose is a 18-year old citizen of El Salvador.  Growing up, he was abused by his violent and alcoholic father.  His father beat him and his mother for years, severely, and always came home intoxicated.  His home life was torturous.

Recently, members of the biggest gang in El Salvador, MS-13, tried to recruit Jose into their gang.  Jose refused, telling them that he was dedicated to good things and to God’s work, and he did not like doing bad things to good people.  As a result,  three gang members beat him with their hands and feet, took him by the neck, and tried to strangle him.  The gangs did not finish what they started because a witness drove by and they did not want to be caught.

Jose went to the doctor to treat the bruises all over his body.  He stopped going to school and did not leave his house for days, until he escaped El Salvador.

However, when he came to the United States, he did not pass his credible fear interview because the asylum officer did not believe that the government of El Salvador would acquiesce to his torture–despite the government’s well-documented connections with MS-13 and the U.S. government’s recognition of MS-13 as an “international criminal organization.”  An Immigration Judge erroneously affirmed the asylum officer’s decision by in essence requiring Jose to meet the burden of proof for a full-blown asylum hearing.

On November 14, 2013, we filed an Application for a Stay of Removal for Jose at the San Antonio Field Office, because he is eligible for special immigrant juvenile status if he is released.  There has not yet been a decision on his application, and he is at immediate risk of deportation just like Ana.

Congress made SIJS into law in order to protect young persons such as Jose and Ana. Congress also made the SIJS law to empower them, to give them a chance to become Americans despite having broken immigration laws in the past.

How does it go?  “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, but deport your abused, abandoned, and neglected children?”  No, there is something fundamentally wrong with this.  This is an urgent message to ICE:  Please, don’t deport our abused and abandoned juveniles.

There should be a specific screening and prosecutorial discretion policy for individuals under the age of 21 to determine if there is a possibility they could obtain lawful permanent residency through SIJS. If there is a positive screening decision, the individual should be paroled into the U.S. for the opportunity to pursue SIJS.

Front Cover of New York Times Article on Alternatives to Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals

Since the announcement of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, we at Amoachi and Johnson have repeatedly and sometime stridently stressed the importance of educating young immigrants about alternative forms of permanent immigration relief.

Kirk Semple of the New York Times took the time to listen to us and others regarding this important issue and wrote an excellent article in today’s paper, “Finding a Path To a U.S. Visa, Often by Luck.” 

An excerpt:

When Angy Rivera, an illegal immigrant, was a young girl in New York City, she was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. He was eventually convicted and imprisoned, but only recently did Ms. Rivera find out that her cooperation with investigators had qualified her for a special benefit: a visa for victims of serious crimes.

Many young illegal immigrants across the country have similarly learned in recent months that they could be eligible for little-known visas that would allow them to put years of worrying about deportation behind them, immigration lawyers said.

These discoveries have come about as an unintended consequence of an immigration policy adopted last June by President Obama that allows young illegal immigrants, under certain conditions, to apply for the right to remain in the country temporarily and work.

The policy, called deferred action, has spurred hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to seek legal help, often for the first time in their lives. During these consultations, many have learned that they are eligible for other, more permanent, forms of immigration relief, like special visas for crime victims.

More than a dozen immigration lawyers around the country — from private practice, advocacy organizations and university law clinics — said that as many as a quarter of the young immigrants who have consulted with them about deferred action since last summer appeared to be eligible for visas or other relief.

“This whole time I had been in the system already and no one had said anything to me or my mom,” said Ms. Rivera, 22, who was born in Colombia and entered the United States on false immigration documents when she was 4. “It was out of the blue for me.”

The unexpected visa eligibility for so many young people highlights a defining facet of illegal immigration and of the debate over immigration reform. Many illegal immigrants are so fearful of contact with the authorities, or thwarted by language and economic barriers, that they live in a kind of isolation that often prevents them from taking advantage of opportunities or services to which they are entitled under the law.

It is a measure of this isolation that not even Ms. Rivera knew that she was a candidate for a special visa — even though she is an immigration advocate and writes a popular online advice column for young illegal immigrants.

She found out about her eligibility for the crime-victims visa, called a U visa, only last fall when she met with a lawyer at Atlas: DIY, a nonprofit group in New York City that works with young immigrants.

Her lawyer, Lauren Burke, said advocacy groups and government agencies had not always done an adequate job of informing illegal immigrants about their rights under the nation’s complex immigration laws.

“The onus is on the immigrant for him or her to find out the information,” Ms. Burke said. “But if you say, ‘I need immigration help,’ you are exposing so much about yourself and putting yourself at such risk.”

Deferred action allows recipients to work legally and live openly without fear of deportation. But it must be renewed after two years, and the program could be canceled by President Obama or his successors. As a result, illegal immigrants would generally prefer to obtain a green card or a visa that would open the door to permanent residency…

Read the rest here.

‘Dreamers’ califican para la residencia

The following is an excellent article about alternative forms of permanent relief to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) written by Pilar Marrero of La Opinion or on the web at  Laopinion.com.

Dreamers’ califican para la residencia

La acción diferida permite a  indocumentados menores de 30 años  elegibles obtener un permiso de trabajo por dos años,  pero no les otorga una residencia legal en EEUU.

La acción diferida permite a indocumentados menores de 30 años elegibles obtener un permiso de trabajo por dos años, pero no les otorga una residencia legal en EEUU.

Foto: la opinionarchiv

Un programa poco conocido podría beneficiarlos también con visas más permanentes

los angeles — Mariela P. una indocumentada ecuatoriana de 31 años llegó con el abogado Bryan Johnson a preguntar si sus hijos, de 12 y 15 años respectivamente, calificaban para DACA, o la ley de acción diferida para jóvenes. Pero cuando salió de la oficina de Johnson, Mariela llevaba una esperanza un poquito mayor: sus dos hijos podrían obtener una tarjeta de residencia gracias a un poco conocido beneficio denominado “Estatus especial para jóvenes inmigrante” (SIJS).

“Si Dios quiere y diosito me ayuda, yo quiero ayudar a mis hijos a lograr su sueño”,dijo Mariela (no es su nombre real), quien vive en Long Island, Nueva York y comenta que uno de sus hijos quiere ser abogado y el otro veterinario. Ella tiene su pequeña peluquería para sacarlos adelante, pero los papeles ayudarán mucho. “Sin documentos es difícil estudiar y más trabajar”, agrega la mujer, quien fue madre a los 15 años y sacó adelante a sus hijos sin la ayuda de su padre.

El abandono paterno es la razón de que los hijos de Mariela seguramente califiquen para el “Estatus especial para jóvenes inmigrantes” un estatus legal que les dará una tarjeta verde en espacio de varios meses y que, a diferencia del estatus temporal de DACA, no será temporal sino permanente.

“Hay muchos jóvenes que consultan si califican para DACA y que podrían obtener otros beneficios mejores como SIJS”, indicó el abogado Johnson, del bufete Amoachi and Johnson en el condado Suffolk, quien representa a Mariela y a sus dos hijos en la petición ante la corte juvenil y luego en el caso de inmigración. “Cuando hago mis consultas con posibles clientes siempre encuentro que una cantidad de los que vienen a averiguar por DACA califican para SIJS”.

SIJS es para menores de edad (de 21 en Texas y Nueva York y de 18 en California) que han sido abandonados o descuidados por al menos uno de sus padres. Antes de 2008 era un beneficio muy restrictivo y sólo se obtenía si un menor era abandonado por ambos padres, pero esto cambió al ampliarse la ley en 2008 en el Congreso.

Pero hay otros tipos de visa para los que jóvenes dreamers están calificando, dijo Judy London abogada de la oficina no lucrativa de abogados Public Counsel, que ofrece representación legal gratis a quienes califiquen para un tipo especial de visas para víctimas de la delincuencia (Visa U).

“Desde que abrimos ese programa y comenzamos también a consultar gente para DACA hemos identificado más de 30 jóvenes que pueden obtener una tarjeta verde por medio de una Visa U porque para ella califican no sólo las víctimas directas de un delito sino sus familiares y además si la víctima del delito es la madre o el padre, por ejemplo, todos los hermanos menores de 18 años recibirían una Visa U”, dijo London.

“Mucha gente no entiende o conoce de la existencia de la Visa U. Si el joven que viene fue víctima de un delito o lo fue su madre, por ejemplo, por violencia doméstica que fue reportada a las autoridades, toda la familia podría obtener la visa y eventualmente la residencia permanente”, agregó London.

Según la abogada, veterana de años de lucha por dar representación legal a quienes no pueden costearla en Los Angeles, ” el 99% de los jóvenes que han pasado por estas puertas a consultas de DACA nunca en su vida han hablado con un abogado y por eso es beneficioso que se les haga una entrevista que permita determinar cual es el mejor beneficio para ellos”.

Muchos abogados sienten que puede ser visto como un conflicto de interés insistir que los jóvenes consulten sus servicios . “Es una línea muy fina, yo definitivamente no quiero que se piense que todos los abogados sólo quieren aprovecharse al decir que es mejor consultar un abogado antes de tomar una decisión”, opinó David Leopold, quien fue presidente de la Asociación America de Abogados de Inmigración y es practicante en Cleveland, Ohio.

“La evaluación de estos jóvenes debe ser completa para que tengan el mejor consejo. A vece califican para dos cosas, DACA y otro beneficio, por ejemplo una VISA U. Cuál es mejor depende de su situación, su edad, si quieren o necesitan trabajar de inmediato o pueden esperar un poco, etc. Es un error sólo solicitar DACA porque es más fácil, aunque se entiende si alguien toma esa decisión”, dijo Leopold.

“Es obvio que DACA da una opción importante a estos jóvenes, pero es temporal y no sabremos que va a pasar después de los dos años”, dijo Leopold. “Esperamos que venga algo más permanente pero entretanto, si hay otras opciones y pueden obtener ayuda legal, puede que haya mejores alternativas porque estos otros beneficios es muy difícil obtenerlos sin abogado”.