Biden Could Protect Tens of Thousands of Abused Immigrant Children from Deportation With One Small Fix

We are advocates for immigrants and work with many difficult cases. This includes matters that involve humanitarian-based relief for children who were neglected, abandoned, or abused. This is due to an immigration quota system that makes it even harder for us to advocate for our children. Mary is one of the young teens we work alongside. She smiles confidently when we ask her about her future. She is an energetic, curious teenager who plans to study engineering. She is thinking about her dreams and hopes as she finishes school. Mary's calm demeanor, thoughtfulness and resiliency belie her difficult personal history and the bureaucratic obstacles that she faces in achieving her goals. Advertisement Mary is one of almost 675,000 children who are deemed to be maltreated every year. After disclosing the abuse of her father to police, Mary was taken from her home in 12th grade. Mary has not seen her father since. He fled with her mother, siblings and other family members. Mary's case was handled by a Juvenile Court. They recognize the importance of providing stability, safety, and pathways to higher educational and employment opportunities for maltreated youth. Mary, who was abused and neglected as a child and arrived in this country at a young ages and does not have legal immigration status, will need to wait many years to realize her goals. Advertisement Advertisement Advertisement Mary, an abusive child, is often eligible for special immigrant status (SIJS) which provides humanitarian immigration relief. SIJS was established in 1990 and provides children who are under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court for neglect, abuse or abandonment a pathway to legal permanent residence (green cards). Mary's problem is that SIJS visas can be classified as employment-based. This administrative designation has resulted in a backlog of approximately 26,000 children who have been abused or neglected from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala over the past two years. If a country is responsible for 7 percent of the visas in this category, it can lead to backlogs. For Special Immigrant Juveniles, backlogged countries have to wait for years before they can apply for permanent residence. Children cannot apply for work permits until SIJS Visas are made available, which allows them to apply to permanent residence. They are also not eligible for federal financial assistance for college until permanent residence is granted. They are still at risk of being detained and deported despite having been granted humanitarian relief. Furthermore, basic juvenile court goals for safety and stability remain unfulfilled. Advertisement There are simple fixes. SIJS beneficiaries may be exempted form visa restrictions by minor changes to the SIJS law and agency regulations. They would also be protected from detention or removal while their applications are pending and permitted to obtain work permits while waiting for decisions. Although it is less likely to last long, the Biden administration may designate SIJS beneficiaries as eligible for deferred actions, which would provide protection and authorization for employment. These fixes do not require major immigration reform and they all eliminate the problem barrier to SIJS' basic humanitarian goal, which is to provide safety and stability for abused and neglected children from immigrant families. The results of SIJS working as it should are inspiring. Kingsley, a Nigerian young man who received SIJS at age 17, is an example of how it works. Kingsley, a young man from Nigeria, obtained SIJS at age 17. Kingsley eventually moved to Arkansas. However, his U.S. situation was very dangerous and he was placed in foster care. Kingsley is now an American citizen and a college graduate thanks to SIJS. This accomplishment is a testament to the power of a functioning system. But Kingsley has done more with his chance. Kingsley founded Kings Hope Foundation two years ago. This charity runs a basketball camp for Nigerian children who have been abused or are in poverty. Advertisement While not every SIJS beneficiary will set up a charity, every child deserves to have the opportunity to fulfill a dream. Mary tries to keep her eyes on a bright future. Mary has been living in the U.S. ever since she was a child, but her undocumented status haunts. Even as SIJS foster child, she is constantly confronted with the possibility of deportation. Congress and the Department of Homeland Security can make a few minor changes to the existing laws and policies that would help these children avoid further harm. SIJS was founded on child welfare principles. Let's fix it so that those noble intentions can be realized.


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