Attorney General Becerra Leads Coalition Pushing Back Against Faulty Federal Proposal Undermining Immigration Protections for Abused Children

Thursday, November 14, 2019
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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today led a coalition of 17 attorneys general pushing back against a federal proposal that would undermine children’s access to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJ). SIJ, a classification created by Congress in 1990, protects abused, neglected, and abandoned children by allowing them to become legal residents, and eventually U.S. citizens. The newly proposed federal rule subverts the statutory role and expertise of states in safeguarding the welfare and best interests of children by requiring individuals seeking protection under SIJ to needlessly repeat steps with the federal government that would have already been lawfully handled by state juvenile courts.

In a comment letter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the coalition calls on the Trump Administration to overhaul this proposed rule, which risks inflicting additional trauma on thousands of already vulnerable children. In the 2018 fiscal year alone, there were 21,917 SIJ applications nationwide. Thousands of children who may qualify for SIJ live in California. In fact, between October 2013 and September 2019, adult sponsors in California welcomed 36,186 unaccompanied children, many of whom are eligible for SIJ, more than any other state.

“Rather than fixing our immigration system, President Trump and his administration are needlessly creating pointless new hurdles for children who have suffered abuse,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Time and time again this administration tries to find ways to push immigrants to the edges of our society – this time by adding useless rules. But the consequences here are not just creating more red tape, this rule would put at risk the lives of children who have already suffered the unimaginable. Together, we’re calling on the Trump Administration to overhaul this latest, foolhardy proposal.”

The Trump Administration’s proposal threatens to undercut SIJ protections that have existed for decades. Under the existing process, state juvenile courts have the authority to issue predicate orders that can enable a child to be eligible for SIJ if a child is unable to reunify with a parent because of abuse, neglect, or abandonment as outlined under state law. Once a predicate order has been issued, the child can apply for SIJ and USCIS has 180 days to make a decision on the application.

Regrettably, the proposed rule on SIJ creates new layers of red tape that are not only duplicative of existing state functions in many respects but also increase the burden on children. The federal government is now asking for the submission of additional evidence to USCIS that reunification is not viable under state law, despite the fact that a state court would have already made that determination in a court order. By adding this requirement and others, USCIS undermines the deference and credit owed to state court decisions. Furthermore, it is unclear how USCIS’ personnel would be equipped to interpret and make decisions on the multitude of laws across 50 states, as well as the laws of tribal organizations or territories under the administrative control of the U.S. government. In the comment letter, the coalition notes that it is not USCIS’ role to second-guess or re-adjudicate determinations already lawfully made by state courts.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra is committed to upholding the rights of those seeking refuge in California and across the country. In August, Attorney General Becerra filed an amicus brief in support of efforts to defend children against USCIS attempts to undermine SIJ. Last week, Attorney General Becerra co-led a coalition of attorneys general in opposition to a Trump Administration proposal that would make it more difficult for asylum-seekers to work. In May, the Attorney General led a multistate coalition in support of a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s illegal efforts to prevent those who have not entered the country at a “port of entry” from applying for asylum in the United States. In February, Attorney General Becerra fought back against the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s practice of denying people access to the asylum process through misrepresentations, threats and intimidation, coercion, and verbal and physical abuse.

In filing the comment letter, California is joined by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the comment letter is available here.

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