DONALD TRUMP’S PLAN to deprive noncitizen immigrants of legal protections has suffered another setback.
The Trump administration broke the law when it denied hundreds of visa applications for immigrants who had been abused, neglected, or abandoned by a parent as minors under the Special Immigrant Juvenile program, a federal judge ruled on Friday.
The ruling is the latest in a string of federal court decisions rebuking the Trump administration’s attempts to drastically restrict immigration to the United States. Federal judges have blocked Trump’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, at least four times. In December, federal judges issued a preliminary injunction against the White House’s proposed asylum ban, and denied requests by the federal government to stay a temporary restraining order against it. The Justice Department appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the initial order blocking the ban.
The SIJ visa program, which was created in 1990, affords protected status to minors who were abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. It allows them to seek a green card, which grants lawful permanent residence in the United States. In February 2018, however, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services quietly issued internal guidance that led to a denial of applications for people who applied for SIJ status after they’d turned 18.
The agency never publicized the change, but it came to light after immigration attorneys began receiving notices that their clients would have their SIJ status denied or revoked. USCIS argued that family courts could not exercise custody over adults, and that they therefore don’t have the power to reunify applicants with a parent. (Family courts were involved in the process to determine whether an applicant was eligible for the program, which included determining whether reunification was viable.)
The Trump administration has characterized the SIJ program as being susceptible to abuse by criminals trying to enter the United States, without substantiating those claims. In a February press release that was unrelated to the SIJ policy change, DHS called to “end abuse” of the SIJ visa and claimed that unaccompanied immigrant children and their families are “Flooding the Border Because of Catch and Release Loopholes.” The agency argued that many unaccompanied minors “are able to obtain a Green Card through SIJ status even though they were smuggled here to reunify with one parent present in the United States,” and that the “influx of unaccompanied alien minors also creates recruiting opportunities for brutal gangs such as MS-13.” Last March, during Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “Operation Matador,” the agency said it arrested 64 MS-13 members who had crossed the border as unaccompanied minors and received SIJ status.
By Akela Lacy for THE INTERCCEPT
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