Federal Court Orders Relief for Class of Immigrant Youth Denied Visas Under New Administration Policy
July 17th, 2019
Matt Adams, NWIRP
(206) 957-8611; firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle, WA – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle ordered that U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) immediately cease from employing a new restrictive policy denying visas to vulnerable youth who have applied for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). Congress created SIJS to provide lawful status to immigrant youth under twenty-one years who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by a parent. In February of 2018, USCIS adopted a new policy seeking to limit this benefit to only children under 18.
U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik found that the agency’s new interpretation violates the law as “Congress expressly made SIJ status available to juveniles up to the age of twenty-one and [nonetheless] a USCIS spokesperson acknowledged shortly after the new policy went into effect, the change in policy generally excludes from protection any juvenile over the age of eighteen.” Judge Robert Lasnik ordered that within thirty days, USCIS must reopen and readjudicate any SIJS petition that was denied based on the administration’s new policy.
The challenge was brought by Northwest Immigrant Rights Project on behalf of three immigrant youth, one of whom has been locked up at the Northwest Detention Center for over eighteen months and was ordered deported after USCIS denied his SIJS petition. Judge Lasnik certified the case as a class action on behalf of all youth in Washington State who had already turned eighteen, but filed or will file their applications before turning twenty-one, as the law requires.
In addition, the Court ruled that the agency must comply with the law by completing the adjudication of SIJS applications within six months. Currently, USCIS leaves applicants in limbo for more than year, creating further instability for this group of vulnerable youth even though a federal statute requires the agency to complete the applications within 180 days. Under the Court’s order, USCIS has thirty days to complete adjudications of all the SIJS petitions based on Washington state court orders that have been pending for more than 150 days.
“This order grants critical relief to scores of vulnerable youth in Washington State who have been denied their one opportunity to obtain lawful status under our current immigration laws,” said Matt Adams, legal director for NWIRP. “Because of the Court’s ruling, our clients will finally have access to the protection that Congress provided for them.”