Number of Juveniles Gaining Special Immigration Status From Federal Authorities Doubled in 2016

While the number of minors arrested trying to enter the U.S. illegally continues to climb each year, a little-known program that grants some of the children legal immigration status and a path to a green card has also grown rapidly.

But that growth might be slowed, as Congress considers making changes to what’s known as the Special Immigrant Juvenile program. Legislation that would tighten eligibility is pending in the House of Representatives.

That legislation comes as figures from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services show the number of petitions for this special status has skyrocketed in the past five years.

In 2011, the government granted 1,869 of the petitions. Last year, the number reached 15,101, which was nearly double the 8,739 granted in 2015.

The sharp increases are a reflection of the unprecedented surge in children — known under immigration laws as unaccompanied minors — who have flooded to the nation’s Southwest border since 2011.

The children come from the strife-torn Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as Mexico. Once arrested, the children are put in a legal process to be removed from the U.S. via immigration courts.

But that can take time, so the U.S. Health and Human Services Department takes custody of the children. They are then placed with a parent, relative or guardian, though some wind up in foster care.

Many of the children, however, can qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile status, which involves state juvenile courts and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

To get this status, the children first go to a state juvenile or probate court, where they have to persuade a judge they are in need of protection because they have been abused, neglected or abandoned in their home country, and can’t be safely returned there.

If the judge makes that legal finding, the minors can then file a petition with the federal government seeking an adjustment in their legal status that allows them to stay in the U.S. They also can then apply for permanent legal residency.

By Greg Moran for The San Diego Union – Tribune
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