Relief Options for Unaccompanied Alien Children
Contributor: Van T. Doan
The numbers of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) coming to the United States, primarily from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, continue to increase. Many of these children undertake the journey to the United States, dangerous as it is, because they face persecution, abuse, or other threatened danger in their country of origin.
Types of Relief Available for Unaccompanied Alien Children: Asylum and SIJS
The two primary types of relief available to UACs are asylum and special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS). Asylum, a form of international protection, is available to refugees who have entered the United States. Qualification for asylum requires that the child is able to demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in the country of origin, based on race, religion, nationality, political views, or membership in a particular social group.
Many UACs who flee their country of origin are trying to escape violence including domestic violence and drug or gang-related violence. Unfortunately, although children may qualify for asylum on these grounds, asylum claims based on domestic and gang violence can be very difficult to prove. In addition, many UACs are unrepresented and lack the knowledge and resources to mount a successful claim for asylum.
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is available to unmarried, non-citizen minors under the age of 21 who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. Recent changes to Maryland law have made it possible for SIJS relief to be available to certain individuals between the ages of 18 and 21. Granting of SIJS requires certain findings from a State juvenile or family court first. After a SIJS finding has been made by a State court, the child may then file for lawful permanent resident status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) or with the immigration court if s/he is in removal proceedings.
The number of courts and agencies involved in obtaining SIJS is often an impediment to UACs seeking this form of relief, as State courts in particular may not be familiar with the federal statutory requirements. All of these things would be daunting for an English-speaking adult without representation. They are significantly more so, obviously, for UACs who lack legal help.
Other Forms of Relief: U Visas and T Visas
In addition to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and asylum, other forms of relief may be available to unaccompanied alien children, most notably U visas and T visas. Certain UACs may qualify for a U visa, which is intended to help victims of certain crimes. Eligible applicants must have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse that rises to the level of a crime, and must have cooperated with law enforcement's investigation and/or prosecution of that crime.
A T visa may be an option for UACs if they have been victims of human trafficking and are present in the United States or in certain territories or a port of entry to the United States. In order to be granted a T visa, one must be able to demonstrate that they would be suffer extreme hardship if removed from the United States. A T visa applicant must be admissible to the United States, but may apply for a waiver of admissibility.
As harsh as it may sound, at present, unaccompanied minor children are not assigned legal representation by the United States government. Though many meet the criteria for remaining in the United States, they may have difficulty proving this eligibility without experienced legal help. To help maximize chances of a UAC being granted legal status, contact Howard County, MD immigration lawyer Van T. Doan.