Some Young People who Suffered Abuse are Being Denied Immigration Protection, Lawsuit Says

Several young immigrants in Western Washington have sued the federal government, saying they’ve been or expect to be wrongfully denied a type of immigration status for youths who have suffered abuse, neglect or abandonment.

They argue that someone under 21 is eligible for the so-called Special Immigrant Juvenile Statusif a state court decides that person can’t be reunited with a parent and should not return to his or her country of origin.

Last year, the lawsuit says, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services started denying the special status to youths who have turned 18.

“It’s the ones who were 18, 19 and 20 at the time the state juvenile court issues the order,” said Northwest Immigrant Rights Project attorney Matt Adams — one of the attorneys who filed the case. “That is where under the Trump administration, USCIS has said: ‘We don’t believe that the state court actually has the authority to issue this order.’”

The federal agency said it does not comment on pending litigation but did send The News Tribune a general statement about the Special Immigrant Juvenile status.

“USCIS continues to ensure that children who have required the protection of a juvenile court from parental abuse, abandonment or neglect receive the humanitarian benefits they are eligible for,” spokeswoman Jessica Collins wrote. “The agency’s highly trained and experienced officers evaluate each petition on a case-by-case basis, to determine if the petitioner qualifies for SIJ classification according to our nation’s laws and policies.”

n Seattle, involves two Pierce County cases and one from Skagit County.

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project has asked the court to certify a class of up to 100 youths. Similar lawsuits have been filed in California and New York, Adams said.

“It’s hard to know the exact numbers,” he said when asked how many youths apply for the status, which congress created.

He estimates there are between several dozen and 100 people in Washington who qualify and submit the applications each year.

Of those, he said maybe 10 percent are 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds.

“This is a very small group, and that’s true nationwide,” he said.

He estimated there are a few thousand youths across the country who qualify for the status and that a small portion of them have already turned 18.

By: Alexis Krell  for KIRO 7

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