The SIJS Process Details: A Step-by-Step Guide

Sijs Process

Navigating the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) process can be complex, but it provides crucial protection for undocumented children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. This guide outlines the main phases of the SIJS process, providing a clear roadmap for those seeking to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the United States.

SIJS is a unique status designed to help vulnerable children who cannot reunite with one or both parents due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The status offers a pathway to lawful permanent residency (a “green card”) in the United States. The SIJS process involves both state court proceedings and federal immigration applications, ensuring that children’s best interests are considered at every step.

Four Main Phases of the SIJS Process

  1. Family Court: Establishing Guardianship or Custody
  2. USCIS: Petitioning for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
  3. Executive Office of Immigration Review: Managing Removal Proceedings
  4. USCIS: Applying for Adjustment of Status

Phase One: Family Court

This phase involves obtaining a juvenile court order which declares that the child is dependent on the court or legally placed under the custody of an individual or entity appointed by the court.

Step 1: Review the Case Memo and File
Begin by thoroughly reviewing the Safe Passage case memo and the client’s case file to understand the specific circumstances and legal needs of the child.

Step 2: Initial Client Meeting
Meet with the child to establish trust, explain the SIJS process, and gather necessary information.

Step 3: Identify a Guardian or Custodian
Determine who will act as the child’s guardian or custodian. This is a crucial step, as the court needs to appoint someone responsible for the child’s welfare.

Step 4: Preparing the Petition
Draft and prepare the guardianship or custody petition to be filed in family court.

Step 5: Filing the Petition
Submit the guardianship or custody petition to the appropriate family court.

Step 6: Obtain Summons
After filing, obtain the summons from the court, which notifies the involved parties of the proceedings.

Step 7: Serve the Respondents
Serve the respondents (usually the parents) with notice of the guardianship or custody proceedings.

Step 8: Fingerprinting
Ensure all household members over 18 are fingerprinted, which is a requirement in guardianship proceedings.

Step 9: Attend the First Court Appearance
Attend the “Return on Process Hearing,” the initial family court appearance to discuss the case’s status.

Step 10: Draft the Motion for Special Findings
Prepare a motion for special findings, detailing why the child qualifies for SIJS under federal law.

Step 11: Prepare for the Merits Hearing
Get ready for the merits hearing on both the underlying petition (guardianship or custody) and the special findings motion.

Step 12: Merits Hearing in Family Court
Attend the merits hearing, where the court will review all evidence and make a determination on guardianship or custody, and special findings.

Phase Two: USCIS Petition for SIJS

Once the juvenile court order is obtained, the next step is to petition USCIS for SIJS.

Step 13: File the SIJS Petition (Form I-360)
Complete and file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, with USCIS. This form establishes that the child qualifies for SIJS based on the juvenile court findings. Along with Form I-360 SIJS, you will need to submit:

  • A copy of the juvenile court order.
  • Evidence of the child’s age (such as a birth certificate or passport).
  • Any other supporting documentation relevant to the case.

Essential Documents for Filing Form I-360

Document Description
Juvenile Court Order Must include dependency or custody placement, and findings on reunification and best interest.
Proof of Age Birth certificate, passport, or other official ID.
Form I-360 Completed petition form.
Additional Supporting Documentation Evidence of abuse, neglect, abandonment if available.

Phase Three: Managing Removal Proceedings

In some cases, the child may be in removal (deportation) proceedings, which need to be addressed while the SIJS petition is being processed.

Step 14: Motion to Administratively Close or Terminate Proceedings
Once the I-360 SIJS is approved, the next step is to file a motion to administratively close and eventually terminate any removal proceedings in immigration court. This step prevents the child from being deported while the application for adjustment of status is pending.

Phase Four: Applying for SIJS Adjustment of Status

The final phase involves applying for lawful permanent resident status.

Step 15: File Form I-485 (Application for Adjustment of Status)
Prepare and submit Form I-485 along with the required supporting documents to USCIS. This application is for the adjustment of the child’s status to that of a lawful permanent resident. Required documents include:

  • Form I-485 and associated fees (or fee waiver request).
  • Two passport-sized photos.
  • A copy of the approved I-360 petition.
  • A copy of the juvenile court order.
  • Evidence of the child’s current immigration status (if applicable).
  • Medical examination report (Form I-693).
  • Proof of the child’s identity and nationality.

Checklist for Form I-485 Submission

Document Description
Form I-485 Completed SIJS adjustment of status application.
Passport Photos Two recent, passport-sized photos.
Approved Form I-360 Copy of the approval notice for SIJS petition.
Juvenile Court Order Copy of the court order with SIJS findings.
Evidence of Current Status If applicable, documents showing current immigration status.
Medical Examination Report (Form I-693) Completed medical examination report by a USCIS-approved doctor.
Proof of Identity and Nationality Birth certificate, passport, or other official ID.

Step 16: Biometrics Appointment
After submitting Form I-485, USCIS will schedule a biometrics appointment for fingerprinting and background checks.

Step 17: Adjustment of Status Interview
USCIS may require an interview to discuss the application and verify details. During the interview, the child may be asked about their background, the juvenile court findings, and other relevant information.

Step 18: Receive Green Card
Once USCIS approves the I-485 application, the child will receive a special immigrant juvenile status green card, granting them lawful permanent resident status.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Green Card

Case Example: Maria’s Journey to SIJS

Maria, a 16-year-old girl from Guatemala, was abandoned by her parents and came to the United States seeking safety. She was taken in by her aunt, who became her guardian. Here’s how Maria navigated the SIJS process:

Family Court:
Maria’s aunt filed for guardianship in family court, presenting evidence of Maria’s abandonment and her need for a stable home. The court granted guardianship and issued a special findings order stating that Maria could not reunite with her parents and that it was in her best interest to remain in the U.S.

USCIS Petition:
With the court order in hand, Maria’s lawyer filed Form I-360 with USCIS. The petition included the court order, proof of Maria’s age, and evidence of her abandonment.

Removal Proceedings:
Maria was in removal proceedings, so her lawyer filed a motion to administratively close these proceedings after her I-360 SIJS was approved. The SIJS immigration judge granted the motion, allowing Maria to stay in the U.S. while her SIJS adjustment of status application was processed.

Adjustment of Status:
Maria’s lawyer filed Form I-485 for her adjustment of status. After attending her biometrics appointment and an interview, Maria received her special immigrant juvenile status green card.

SIJS Age Out by State

Sijs Age Out By State

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a crucial immigration classification designed to protect minors in the United States who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents. While eligibility criteria such as being under 21 years old, unmarried, and obtaining a court order from a Juvenile Court are standardized nationally, the age-out policy—the age by which a court order must be obtained—varies significantly by state. This section provides an overview of the age-out policies across different states, highlighting the complexities involved in navigating the SIJS process.

Understanding Age Out in SIJS Cases

The age-out policy in SIJS determines the age by which a minor must obtain a court order from a Juvenile Court to qualify for SIJS. This court order declares the minor dependent on the court due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment and asserts that reunification with one or both parents is not in the minor’s best interest.

For instance, in Arizona, the court order must be obtained before the minor turns 18, while in California, Colorado, and Connecticut, minors have until they are 21 years old to secure the necessary court order. This variability reflects state-specific legal frameworks and the discretion of Juvenile Courts in each jurisdiction.

SIJS age out by state Policies Analysis

Below is a comprehensive table detailing the age-out policies for SIJS across different states in the United States:

State Age Out Policy Additional Information
Alabama 19 Predicate order issued before turning 19.
Alaska 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Arizona 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Arkansas 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
California 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
Colorado 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
Connecticut 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
Delaware 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
District of Columbia 21 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Florida 21 Predicate order petition and application must be filed before turning 18.
Georgia 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Hawaii 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
Idaho 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Illinois 21 Predicate order issued before turning 18. Guardianship can be extended until 22.
Indiana 18 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
Iowa 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Kansas 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Kentucky 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Louisiana 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Maine 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
Maryland 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
Massachusetts 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
Michigan 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Minnesota 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
Mississippi 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
Missouri 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Montana 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Nebraska 19 Predicate order issued before turning 19.
Nevada 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
New Hampshire 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
New Jersey 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21. If over 18, must prove dependency and non-emancipation.
New Mexico 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
New York 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21. Parental abuse must occur before 18.
North Carolina 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
North Dakota 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Ohio 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Oklahoma 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Oregon 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
Pennsylvania 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Rhode Island 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
South Carolina 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
South Dakota 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Tennessee 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Texas 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Utah 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Vermont 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
Virginia 21 Predicate order issued before turning 19. Courts may extend jurisdiction to 21.
Washington 21 Predicate order issued before turning 21.
West Virginia 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Wisconsin 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.
Wyoming 18 Predicate order issued before turning 18.

States With More Favorable Age Out Policies

Some states, including California, Connecticut, and Maryland, have adopted a more favorable age-out policy of 21. This extended timeline provides minors with additional time to navigate the complex SIJS process, gather necessary documentation, and secure a court order from the Juvenile Court.

States With Stricter Age Out Policies

Conversely, a larger percentage of states maintain a stricter age-out policy, typically setting the limit at 18 or 19. This shorter timeframe imposes greater urgency on minors seeking SIJS status in these states, requiring them to initiate and complete the court order process earlier.

Legal Implications and Challenges

Understanding the age-out policies for SIJS across different states is crucial due to the legal implications involved. Minors must adhere to their state’s specific requirements to qualify for SIJS, ensuring they obtain the necessary court order before reaching the age-out limit. Failure to meet these deadlines can render minors ineligible for SIJS, emphasizing the importance of early legal counsel and proactive planning.

In conclusion, while SIJS provides a vital pathway to protection for vulnerable minors in the United States, navigating its intricacies—including state-specific age-out policies—is essential for achieving successful outcomes. Seeking assistance from an experienced asylum attorney can greatly assist minors and their families in understanding these nuances and navigating the SIJS application process effectively.

For further information or legal assistance regarding SIJS and its age-out policies, consulting with a knowledgeable attorney specializing in SIJS immigration law is recommended.

Conclusion

The SIJS process is intricate but essential for the protection and stability of undocumented children facing hardship. By understanding and following these steps, legal representatives can effectively navigate the SIJS process, providing children with a secure path to a better future in the United States.

For more detailed information and guidance, consider referring to the full SIJS manual or seeking assistance from a mentor attorney through the Safe Passage Project. Ensuring that each step is carefully followed and properly documented can make a significant difference in the outcome of an SIJS application, offering hope and a new beginning for vulnerable children.

For personalized legal assistance, please contact our law firm to discuss your case and explore your options. Our team of experienced attorneys is dedicated to helping children and their families navigate the SIJS process and secure the protections they deserve.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about SIJS

Q1: What is the age limit for SIJS?
A: The child must be under 21 years of age at the time of filing the SIJS petition. In some states, the age can be down to 18 or 19 years old so you better check the table provided in the article above. 

Q2: Can a child be married and still qualify for SIJS?
A: No, the child must be unmarried to qualify for SIJS.

Q3: What happens if the child turns 21 during the SIJS process?
A: As long as the SIJS petition (Form I-360) was filed before the child turned 21, they remain eligible for SIJS.

Q4: Can SIJS be denied?
A: Yes, if the child does not meet all the eligibility criteria or if the required documentation is not provided, the SIJS petition can be denied.

Q5: Is there an appeal process if SIJS is denied?
A: Yes, if a SIJS petition is denied, the applicant can file an appeal or a motion to reopen or reconsider the decision.

Q6: Can a child apply for SIJS without a guardian or custodian?
A: No, the juvenile court must appoint a guardian or custodian to support the SIJS petition.

Q7: How long does the SIJS process take?
A: The timeline can vary, but the SIJS process generally takes several months to over a year, depending on the complexity of the case and the workload of the family court and USCIS.

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