Immigration Relief Options for Undocumented Youth
Some immigrant children in contact with the child welfare system are undocumented, without any lawful immigration status. An undocumented youth at risk of deportation will find it hard to successfully transition to adulthood, without the ability to work legally, obtain a Social Security Card or driver's license, or open a bank account.
There are special laws available to assist undocumented children who have been abused or neglected in receiving lawful immigration status. County workers may be the first, and only, people a child sees who are able to identify these issues and provide assistance. A youth under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court who will not be returned to her parents due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment may be eligible to obtain a green card as a "special immigrant juvenile." The juvenile court must determine if it is in the youth's best interests to remain in the U.S. rather than returning to her country of origin. An immigrant child who was the victim of abuse by a parent or stepparent (or is the child of a parent being abused) may be able to obtain a green card under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), as long as the abuser is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This might benefit a child and mother who are receiving services because of abuse by a stepfather or husband who is a citizen. A child who is the victim of a crime such as domestic violence or incest may be able to obtain status with a "U" visa, as long as the child, or an adult helping the child, is willing to cooperate with authorities in any investigation or prosecution of the crime. The person who committed the crime does not have to be a citizen or permanent resident. For example, this could help a child abused by an undocumented parent or nonrelative.
County agencies can file these applications themselves or work with a local immigration agency or attorney to file them. It is crucial to identify the child as soon as possible, since starting to work early can be a big factor in success. For more information, visit www.ilrc.org/sijs.php, which has handouts describing different types of immigration applications; a free manual for social workers on how to file special immigrant juvenile applications; a "Benchbook" manual on special considerations for noncitizens involved in adoption, family court, dependency or delinquency proceedings; and Living in the United States: A Guide for Immigrant Youth.
- Kathy Brady, Senior Attorney, Immigrant Legal Resource Center
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