Governor Signs Bill Extending Protections to Vulnerable Young Immigrants

For Immediate Release: May 10, 2017
Press Contact
Tim Warden-Hertz, Directing Attorney (Tacoma Office), Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
Antonio Ginatta, Policy Director (English/Spanish), Columbia Legal Services

May 10th, 2017, Olympia – Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill today that helps protect vulnerable young immigrants in Washington. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Columbia Legal Services, who had worked together to advocate for the passage of the legislation, applaud the work of the legislature and the Governor on this important issue.

“We applaud state leadership in supporting this bill that protects some of the most vulnerable young adults in our state and provides them a pathway to a bright future,” said Tim Warden-Hertz, Directing Attorney of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project’s Tacoma Office.


Under federal law, young immigrants who are abused, abandoned, or neglected, and are unable to reunite with a parent, are eligible to apply for federal Special Immigrant Juvenile status (SIJS). A young person who qualifies for SIJS is provided a road to citizenship. While the federal protection of SIJS extends up to age 21, Washington did not have in place the judicial mechanism necessary to trigger the federal protection. With this legislation, House Bill 1988, Washington joins other states in aligning state law with this important federal protection.


With Governor Inslee’s signature today on HB 1988, state courts will soon be able appoint limited guardians for vulnerable youth up to age 21, a step necessary to qualify for SIJS protection.


The bill signed today, House Bill 1988, was sponsored by Representative Lilian Ortiz-Self (21st district). The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Senator Jeannie Darneille (27th district). Senate Human Services chair Steve O’Ban (28th district) and House Judiciary chair Laurie Jinkins (27th district) played important roles in moving the bills through their committees.


“We are pleased that the Governor and legislature have taken this step to help these vulnerable children achieve stability and safety,” said Mary Van Cleve of Columbia Legal Services. “It is an encouraging reaffirmation of our state’s values.”


This change in policy will positively impact the lives of many young adult immigrants in Washington State, such as a Northwest Immigrant Rights Project client and nineteen year-old young man who survived child abuse and gang violence in his home country and fled to the United States. He is now eligible for the expanded protection. In learning about the change in policy, he said this, “I am so thankful for the law that they passed, which will help a lot of people like me who are alone in this country and feel defeated. I am very happy for this new protection.”  For his privacy, the client asked to remain anonymous.
The signing today coincides with CLS’s release of a report on unaccompanied immigrant youth in the state. The report, entitled Immigrant Youth in Crisis: Struggles of Unaccompanied Youth from Central America in Washington State, which sheds light on gaps in Washington’s systems for protecting unaccompanied immigrant youth. HB1988 addresses one of several recommendations outlined in the report.