In 1990, Congress created a special visa category that allows certain undocumented children in the United States’ juvenile system to qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). A child who obtains such status can apply for a Green Card and become a lawful permanent resident of the U.S.
Upon becoming a lawful permanent resident, the child can legally obtain employment, enjoy in-state tuition benefits and in five years apply for citizenship. However, a child whose application for SIJS is denied may be subject to deportation proceedings.
Requirements for Obtaining SIJS
The Immigration and Nationality Act sets forth the conditions under which an undocumented child can obtain a Green Card:
- The child must be under the age of 21 and unmarried
- A U.S. court must have legally committed the child to a state agency or declared the child a court dependant – this includes children in delinquency or dependency proceedings
- The child must be found “eligible for long-term foster care” – the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) defines this as a situation where reuniting the child with the parent is not possible
- It must not be in the child’s best interest to be returned to his or her home country – it must be proven that there is no suitable place of habitation for the child in the child’s country of nationality
- The court must have made the above findings based on abuse, neglect or abandonment of the child and not solely for immigration status reasons
Costella moved to the U.S. from Malta with her father when she was 13 years old, leaving behind her mother. One year later, Costella’s father died, and Costella has since been living in the U.S. under the care of a foster care home. Now 16 years old, Costella has hired an attorney to assist her in a SIJS petition.
Costella will have a good chance of success if the court finds that reuniting her with her mother is not possible and there is no other suitable place of habitation.