Victory – SIJS Settlement Final. USCIS Resumes Processing SIJS Applications

After more than a year of holding Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) cases in abeyance and denying many by adding extraneous requirements, USCIS will resume processing them as part of a settlement agreement in J.L. v. Cuccinelli, 18-CV-4914 (N.D. Cal.)

A long-time client of Lal Legal filed a class action lawsuit earlier this year alleging that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) imposed a new requirement on SIJ-classification eligibility and failed to approve SIJ petitions for petitioners who were placed in guardianships under Cal. Prob. Code § 1510.1 when they were below the age of 21 but over the age of 18 because a Probate Court in California did not have jurisdiction to “reunify” the petitioner with their parent. The parties have now reached a settlement.

Per the settlement, under § 1510.1 and Cal. Civ. Proc. § 155, the CA Probate Court qualifies as a “juvenile court” for SIJ-eligibility purposes, and need not have the ability to reunify a petitioner with their parents to make a determination that reunification is not viable.

USCIS will adjudicate Class Members’ SIJ petitions as follows:

(1) Within 7 days: the Named Plaintiffs.
(2) Within 30 days: all Class Members on the Class List who previously received a denial or revocation.
(3) Within 60 days: all Class Members on the Class List who were in removal proceedings as of October 16, 2019.
(4) Within 90 days: all Class Members on the Class List who previously received an RFE, NOID, and/or NOIR.
(5) Within 180 days: all remaining Class Members.

SIJS petitioners in removal proceedings or with final orders of removal should seek counsel to reopen their cases and/or terminate their final orders before they can pursue adjustment of status.

SIJS is available to all petitioners who have been abused, abandoned or neglected by one or both parents, and a state court has made a determination that reunification is not viable under state law with one or both parents while the child is under 21. Further, in order to qualify for SIJS classification, petitioners must meet all of the requirements found at INA § 101(a)(27)(J)8 CFR § 204.11; and USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 6, Part J- Special Immigrant Juveniles.

USCIS has sought to restrict the availability of SIJS on multiple occasions, even while the litigation was pending. For example, on October 11, 2019, USCIS issued three adopted Administrative Appeals Office decisions to clarify the requirements for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) classification. This update reaffirmed and clarified that:

  • The petitioner must have been a juvenile under relevant state law when the juvenile court order was issued;
  • USCIS requires evidence of a court’s intervention to provide relief from abuse, neglect, or abandonment beyond a statement that the juvenile is dependent on the court; and
  • USCIS will no longer require evidence that a state court had the authority to place a petitioner in the custody of an unfit parent in order to make a qualifying determination regarding parental reunification for purposes of SIJ classification.

These decisions were further clarified by USCIS on a follow-up stakeholder call. Following the settlement agreement, USCIS has resumed the processing of SIJS (I-360) applications, and the agency has already issued approval notices in several cases. We are thrilled about the resolution of this matter, and look forward to more approvals coming our way shortly.

Image credit: Paul B

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