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How the U.S. Continues to Fail Unaccompanied Minors

Each year, thousands of unaccompanied children (UAC) enter the U.S. in order to escape dire circumstances in their home countries. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), 48% of UACs are trying to escape violent situations involving drug cartels and gangs.

When UACs arrive in the U.S., they do not have any legal immigration status, which can elevate the risk of deportation. In 1990, Congress enacted a new classification called special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) to offer one means of legal status to qualifying UACs. “Evidence of the humanity in our immigration law remains in SIJS,” writes Richard F. Storrow, a professor at the CUNY School of Law, in a new paper published with the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal.

Storrow’s article offers new insight into the growing difficulties around obtaining SIJS thanks, in large part, to the mounting wave of anti-immigration sentiment in the U.S. “Serious obstacles block many immigrant juveniles’ path to attaining SIJS,” he writes.

For starters, many UACs do not know about SIJS as a viable option because DHS officials fail to share information about the classification. But it only gets more perfidious. At present, there are certain quotas around SIJS even though, as Storrow points out, it’s meant to function “more akin to asylum than to other visa categories” and shouldn’t be limited in that way.

State courts are also to blame. “These courts have refused to make predicate orders, appearing to shun their roles as finders of facts regarding the welfare of immigrant children subject to their jurisdiction,” he writes. The executive branch, too, has increasingly exercised its power by claiming oversight and “stepp[ing] up scrutiny of state court orders,” which ultimately subverts the original agreement of “cooperation among the state and federal systems.”

Storrow concludes by calling for Congress to provide greater “clarification” about the “proper roles and responsibilities” that state and federal agencies have. If nothing changes moving forward, he predicts that “we will see more surreptitious activity aimed at whittling this form of immigration protection out of existence.” 

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