Lowenstein Sandler’s Center for the Public Interest is securing swift and meaningful relief for young immigrants threatened by a government policy that arbitrarily denies them Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) and subjects them to deportation to proven dangerous conditions. 

SIJS is available to children who suffered abuse, neglect, abandonment, or similar mistreatment by at least one of their parents. Congress created SIJS to ensure that immigrant children would be protected from family abuse, including by remaining legally in the United States to avoid repatriation with, or to rejoin, an unfit family.

During the last year, however, the government began denying SIJS to juveniles who had obtained New Jersey family court orders–making findings of abuse, neglect, or abandonment–after the juvenile’s 18th birthday. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had misread state law to conclude that the New Jersey family court lacks jurisdiction to make the necessary child welfare findings for juveniles between the ages of 18 and 21. USCIS therefore delayed, questioned, and denied the SIJS applications of hundreds of juveniles in this age group.

In a federal suit against USCIS and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Center obtained a preliminary injunction on July 3, 2019, ordering USCIS to adjudicate SIJS petitions for this class of juveniles in conformity with federal and state law. The injunction also required the government to assess and correct past denials and other harms. On the consent of the government, the court ordered the agency to defer deporting juveniles in the class for six months. “The federal court order confirms that USCIS was wrong in its rationale for the SIJS denials, and that the agency must defer to state courts on the issue of jurisdiction under state law,” said Catherine Weiss, partner and Chair of the Center. “The court has now put the onus to correct these mistakes where it belongs: on the federal agency that adopted and implemented the illegal policy, rather than on the juveniles who suffered from it.”

Since the entry of the preliminary injunction, the Center has been vigorously pursuing effective remedies for all the juveniles affected. On September 19, 2019, the Hon. Madeline Cox Arleo of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey issued an order certifying a class of young people who have been or may be denied SIJS based on the unlawful government policy and appointing Lowenstein Sandler as class counsel. “The class certification order will allow us to advocate on behalf of hundreds of juveniles who’ve faced unjustifiable hurdles to obtaining a form of humanitarian relief for which they are legally eligible,” said Weiss.

The Center has already secured significant remedial measures for the class through its ongoing advocacy. USCIS has reconsidered 68 SIJS petitions that it had previously denied or revoked. To ensure that the government is complying with the preliminary injunction, Judge Arleo has ordered Defendants to share certain petitions they did not approve during the re-adjudication process with class counsel for secondary review. Moreover, on September 26, the Court gave Defendants 60 days to review 167 pending SIJS petitions that may also have been adversely impacted by their unlawful policy.

The Lowenstein team members in this suit are Catherine Weiss, Natalie J. Kraner, Craig Dashiell, Eric R. Suggs, Tracy F. Buffer, and Claudia Lorenzo.