News from the New York Attorney General’s Office
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 9, 2018
Attorney General’s Office Press Office / 212-416-8060
A.G. UNDERWOOD FILES BRIEF TO PROTECT VULNERABLE YOUNG IMMIGRANTS, FOLLOWING TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S REVERSAL ON SPECIAL IMMIGRANT JUVENILE STATUS
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Provided Abused, Abandoned, or Neglected Young People a Path to Lawful Permanent Residence Until Trump Administration Quietly Reversed Policy Earlier this Year
AG Underwood Argues that Federal Government’s Denial of SIJS to NY-Based Applicants Rests on Fundamental Misunderstanding of NY Law
NEW YORK — New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood filed an amicus brief seeking to protect applicants for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), arguing that the federal government’s recent denial of status to four New York-based applicants between ages 18 and 21 rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of New York law.
SIJS was enacted in 2008 to create a legal pathway to lawful permanent residence for unaccompanied minors under the age of 21 who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents. Earlier this year, in an unannounced change that marked a sharp departure from a decade of federal policy, the Trump administration decided that New York residents between 18 and 21 years of age no longer qualify for status.
“Over and over again, the Trump administration’s outright hostility to immigrants has put people’s lives at risk and harmed our state. This isn’t just cruel and un-American—it’s unlawful,” said Attorney General Underwood. “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status is meant to protect some of the most vulnerable young people in the country by giving them a path to lawful permanent residence. These are young people who have been abused, abandoned, and neglected by their families—and who are entitled to these protections under law. The Trump administration’s effort to misapprehend New York law puts these young lives at risk, and we will fight it, just as we have fought the administration’s many other draconian policies.”
The brief was filed in R.F.M. v. Nielsen, a putative class action pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The SIJS statute allows immigrants under 21 who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned to remain in the United States as lawful permanent residents if they can show that they have been declared dependent on a state “juvenile court,” that the court determined that it would not be in their best interest to return to their or their parents’ home country, and that reunification with one or both parents is not viable. A federal regulation defines “juvenile court” as a state court with jurisdiction to make determinations affecting the care and custody of “juveniles.” Although the federal government has for decades deferred to New York’s determination that New York Family Court qualifies as a “juvenile court,” it recently reversed that deference, rejecting applications from applicants between ages 18 and 21 on the grounds that Family Court supposedly lacks jurisdiction to make determinations affecting the custody of those applicants. The federal government has separately denied other applications on the ground that Family Court lacks the power to order that juveniles ages 18 to 21 be reunified with their parents.
Attorney General Underwood’s brief argues that the federal government has misinterpreted New York law in both respects. New York’s Family Court Act does grant Family Court the power to determine the custody of juveniles between ages 18 and 21—including through the power to appoint guardians over such juveniles. Under New York law, guardians are responsible for making determinations about the physical custody of their charges. New York law also empowers Family Court to reunify juveniles ages 18 to 21 with their parents by allowing the court to appoint such juveniles’ natural parents as their guardians. Thus, Family Court qualifies as a juvenile court when exercising jurisdiction over juveniles between ages 18 and 21 and has the power to order that such juveniles be reunited with their parents.