November 4th, 2022
Matt Adams, Legal Director, NWIRP
(206) 957-8611, email@example.com
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision today affirming a permanent injunction against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that requires the agency to adjudicate Special Immigrant Juvenile visa (SIJ) petitions within 180 days of filing. The lawsuit was originally brought by Northwest Immigrant Rights Project on behalf of three vulnerable youth representing a class of SIJ petitioners from Washington State.
SIJ status is a special form of relief that Congress created to provide lawful status to immigrant children and youth under twenty-one years of age who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by a parent. Given the vulnerable nature of these children and youth, Congress required USCIS to approve or deny the petitions within 180 days of the date they are filed. However, in recent years, USCIS allowed a backlog of tens of thousands of cases to emerge. USCIS also issued a new rule purporting to grant the agency the authority to stop or restart the 180-day timeline whenever the agency requested additional information from the petitioner.
In the court below, Judge Robert S. Lasnik of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington found that the agency frequently failed to comply with the law, and ruled that the agency’s new rule clearly violated the timeline imposed by Congress. The district court issued a permanent injunction against the agency finding that the agency’s failure to comply with the statute would cause irreparable harm to these vulnerable youth.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the permanent injunction, noting that the agency’s new rule demonstrates the need for injunctive relief. The Court explained that
“USCIS ‘does not believe it is obliged to make a determination within 180 days of the date on which the petitioner files his or her petition.’ Nor could they: the agency adopted a final rule during this appeal that provides that USCIS will—only, ‘[i]n general’—adjudicate SIJ petitions within the statutory deadline, and that rule permits USCIS to ‘reset or suspend’ the statutory timeline whenever the agency finds (respectively) that the petition ‘is missing required initial evidence’ or that USCIS ‘requests that the applicant or petitioner submit additional evidence or respond to other than a request for initial evidence.’”
The Court further ruled that the district court did not abuse its discretion in strictly imposing Congress’s 180-day timeline without permitting the agency to toll that period when it issues requests for evidence or notices of intent to deny.
“The opinion affirms the need to hold the agency accountable, in order to ensure that these children are protected as Congress intended,” said Matt Adams, legal director for NWIRP.
The Court of Appeals’ decision narrowed a small part of the injunction, holding it was inappropriate to permit all SIJ petitioners who are required to respond to requests for additional evidence the ability to indefinitely toll the 180-day timeline without an individual showing of good cause.
The Court of Appeals’ opinion can be found here.