Children's Voice July/August 2007

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Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

In 1990, Congress created the special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS). An undocumented child who is eligible for long-term foster care can be granted this status and become immediately eligible to file for permanent residency in the United States. Although the process can be completed in less than a year, it takes much longer in some jurisdictions, and early identification is extremely important because a child can lose SIJS eligibility once the court terminates jurisdiction over the child.

Despite the fact that Congress created SIJS 15 years ago, implementation remains inconsistent. More often than not, courts are either completely unaware of or confused about its technical requirements. The precise number of undocumented children who emancipate from foster care without obtaining permanent residency is unknown. Most advocates, however, are convinced child welfare agencies and the courts have failed to inform many eligible youth in a timely manner of their right to apply for SIJS status.

Once a child receives SIJS status, child welfare agencies are able to save significant costs by receiving federal reimbursement for the child's care. SIJS does not provide retroactive reimbursement, however, so the sooner it is enacted, the greater the cost savings to the agency.

Source: Undercounted, Underserved: Immigrant and Refugee Families in the Child Welfare System, Annie E. Casey Foundation (2006).

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