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Lawsuit Slams Immigration Officials for Denying Protection to Child Refugees, Refusing to Call Them Children

court-510750_640A group of refugee children filed a lawsuit against immigration officials, claiming their applications under the Special Immigrant Juvenile (SJI) status system were illegally denied based on the claim that they were no longer children, despite Texas Family Code saying otherwise.

Citing the Administrative Procedure Act, Deepak Budhathoki et al. took legal action against Jeh Johnson, director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Leon Rodgriguez, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), and Mario R. Ortiz, director of the San Antonio USCIS field office.

Part of Effort to Crack Down on Child Immigrants

According to David Walding, director of the Bernard Kohler Center and lead counsel of the plaintiffs, the violations can be traced to the federal government’s attempts to remove children from Central America who have escaped to the United States in recently growing numbers due to police and gang violence.

In this new case, the three plaintiffs are looking to represent “All unmarried persons whose applications for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status were denied or will be denied by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) because the required Texas court dependency order (‘Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship’ or SAPCR) became final after the person turned 18 years.”

The plaintiffs, all of whom are under 21, received SAPCR orders from Texas courts, which found, “they have been subjected to abandonment, abuse or neglect by one or more parent; that reunification with one or more parent is not viable based on that abandonment, abuse or neglect; and that return to the plaintiff’s country of origin is not in the best interests of the child.”

The courts refer to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement report, which states more than 53,000 unaccompanied minors were in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in 2014, over 7,000 of whom were released to sponsors in the state.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement is the federal agency tasked to provide care to unaccompanied immigrant children, defined as anyone below 18 years of age with no lawful status and no guardian or parent in the United States, or an unavailable guardian or parent in the country.

Eligibility for SIJ

A child is qualified for relief under the Special Immigrant Juvenile system if he/she meets the following criteria:

  • The child is younger than 21
  • Single
  • Declared dependent in a juvenile court
  • Determined by the juvenile court that reunification with a guardian/parent is unadvisable due abuse, neglect, or similar basis
  • Determined by the juvenile court that removal to the child’s country of origin or last country of residence is not viable

While all three plaintiffs are older than 18, they qualify as children under Sec. 101.003 of the Texas Family Code, which defines a child or minor as a person over 18 for whom a person may be required to pay child support to.

If you or anyone you know is dealing with a similar situation, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Lyttle Law Firm right away. Schedule a consult by calling our offices at 512-215-5225 or by visiting our website.