New Federal Immigration Policy Offers Easier Path to Legal Residency for Some Young Migrants

Jocelyn Michelle Cruz Rivera, 17, said goodbye to her mother and left Guatemala City on Jan. 31, 2022. She and a dozen other migrants traveled first to a house on the Guatemala side of the Mexican border, then to the southern Mexico state of Chiapas. After staying about a month at a crowded Chiapas motel, they piled into trucks and drove north to Mexicali, just across the border from Calexico, California.

Once the sky was dark, they were driven to a border crossing marked only by a natural rock formation. She and other migrants scrambled across the rocks into the U.S.

Soon after, Border Patrol agents apprehended them.

“They said ‘Welcome to the U.S., you are safe now,’” Jocelyn said.

But it is unclear what opportunity and security await Jocelyn in the U.S.

New federal policies that took effect last month now offer some immigrant children protection from deportation and an easier path to legal residency. However, full details on the extent of that protection have yet to be released. And many young immigrants like Jocelyn will continue to face the dual challenges of coping with traumatic experiences in their home countries or along their journeys, while planning for their uncertain futures in the U.S.

The changes to the Special Immigrant Juvenile program, a 1990 program intended as a humanitarian path to lawful residency for immigrant children and youth who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by at least one parent, were announced earlier this year.

The changes make it easier for young immigrants to apply for the special status. And once their petition has been approved — the first step towards legal residency — they now will generally be protected from deportation and can apply for work permits.

Jocelyn, whose father left her family when she was young, intends to apply.

“Today, we are taking action to help immigrant children in the U.S. who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned and offer them protection to help rebuild their lives,” said U.S.

By Jo Lutz
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