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New Deal To Keep Abused Immigrant Kids In US Gets OK'd

March 31, 2015 (3 min read)

"A California federal judge on Friday approved a deal between the federal government and a class of abused immigrant children, in which the immigrants will have a path to U.S. residency under the “special immigrant juvenile” program and the applications of those who aged out of the program will be reopened.

The suit, filed on behalf of immigrant children who had been abused and made dependents of state courts, challenged certain U.S. Department of Homeland Security administrative policies and practices that blocked abused, abandoned and neglected youth from receiving legal resident status under the government’s SIJ program.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson issued a one-page order approving the parties’ stipulation on the plaintiffs’ motion for classwide enforcement of the case’s 2010 settlement, under which the DHS agreed to implement measures to enable immigrants to apply for SIJ status even after they aged out of state-court dependency, as long as they were under 21 years of age when they applied.

That stipulation, filed on March 4, holds that DHS bureau U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will not deny, revoke or terminate a class member’s application for SIJ status if the applicant was under 21 years of age and unmarried at the time he or she applied, and if the applicant is either is under a state dependency order or was under such an order before he or she aged out of it.

The stipulation also states that the USCIS will, without charging additional fees, reopen applications for SIJ status that post-2010 were denied due to the applicant's aging out of a state-court dependency order, as long as the applicant was under 21 and unmarried when he or she applied.

The suit, filed by four immigrant children in May 2005, alleged that the government’s implementation of the SIJ program was preventing in-custody immigrant minors from getting the state court orders they needed to apply for SIJ status, and that the policy allowing applicants to age out of the program was unlawful.

In January 2008 a trial court partially granted class certification to the plaintiffs, and the parties settled in 2010.

The plaintiffs filed their motion to enforce the settlement in July 2014, arguing that although the agency initially complied with the December 2010 agreement, in mid-2013 the agency conducted an “about-face” and began insisting that applicants for SIJ status be both under 21 years of age and the subject of a state-court dependency order — which generally ceases to apply at the age of 18, denying many class members the benefit bargained for in the settlement.

“CIS has now denied numerous class members’ SIJ classification — and revoked SIJ classification it had previously granted to many more — on the ground that their dependency orders lapsed solely on account of age prior to their having applied for SIJ benefits,” the plaintiffs’ briefing in support of their motion stated.

The parties entered the stipulation in early March, and Judge Pregerson approved the deal on Friday. The deal also requires the USCIS to notify those class members who will be eligible for their applications to be reopened.

Representatives for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

The plaintiffs are represented by Carlos R. Holguin, Peter A. Schey and Marchela Iahdjian of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law and Judy London and Kristen Jackson of Public Counsel.

The government is represented by Stuart F. Delery, Elizabeth J. Stevens and Melissa S. Leibman of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The case is Perez-Olano et al. v. Holder et al., case number 2:05-cv-03604, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California." - Daniel Siegal, Law360, Mar. 30, 2015.