A wave of children from Central America have come to the U.S. border in the last few months, supposedly because of a rumor that they would be given a permit to stay in the United States. This rumor is not necessarily true, and the children have been placed in shelters and, in many cases, deported back to their countries. It is true that not every child without his parents (called “unaccompanied minors” in immigration terminology) is going to get legal status in the United States. However, it is true that immigration law does provide some good options for children who are present in this country without one or both of their parents.
First, they can ask for asylum. Just by asking for asylum, they should be afforded an interview with an asylum officer, who will determine whether they have a “credible fear” of returning to their home country. If they pass this interview, they will be given a lengthier interview. As unaccompanied minors, they are afforded special procedures in the asylum process, including less adversarial hearings and the waiving of certain procedural hurdles, like the filing deadline, that can trip up adult asylum applicants.
Another option to look for is if the child was a victim of “human trafficking” on their journey to the U.S. If they were given false promises by smugglers, or if they were used for work or other exploitation, they may be considered victims of human trafficking, which would entitle them to legal status with a T visa. If they were a victim of any other crime in the U.S., whether by their smugglers or anyone else, such as assault, they may be eligible for legal status through a U visa.
Special Immigrant Juvenile
Probably the best option for unaccompanied minors is the little known and cumbersome Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status. This is a complicated process that requires special expertise, but it is a great way for an unaccompanied minor to obtain permanent legal status in the United States. I have successfully completed a number of SIJ cases and often have to introduce state and local juvenile and family judges to the process. Just a few weeks ago, I had an order signed for a child from Japan by a judge in Seguin, Texas.
Any child who is not in the presence of both his parents (meaning only one parent or neither parent is with him) and has someone willing to take custody of him, like a friend or relative, is a strong candidate for SIJ status. Again, it is important to realize how potentially broad this program is. Anyone under the age of 18 (and in some cases 21) who is not with both of his parents can potentially be protected from deportation and granted permanent legal status in the U.S. If you have custody or possession of a child who has at least one parent outside the country, and are interested in trying to get legal status for that child, it is worth looking into this program.
Our office specializes in SIJ cases, and we have a very good record of success with these cases in Texas and elsewhere. If you think you know someone who can benefit from this program and want a free consultation with one of our attorneys at Salmon-Haas, please call us at (210) 734-8472 or contact us for help.
Aaron S. Haas is a 2006 graduate of Harvard Law School and is board-certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.