USCIS Special Immigrant Juvenile Policy Blocked, For Now
By Mike LaSusa
Law360 (July 17, 2019, 11:32 PM EDT) — A Washington federal judge on Wednesday granted class certification to a group of
young migrants challenging a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services rule change making it more difficult for them to get
special protections, and temporarily blocked the agency from implementing the policy in the Evergreen State.
U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik said the immigrants were likely to win their case, which takes issue with a recent change to
the policies surrounding Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, a program that provides a path to U.S. permanent residency for
immigrants under 21 who have been abused or abandoned by their parents.
The rule introduced earlier this year requires state courts, which are tasked with making the required findings of an immigrant’s
eligibility for SIJS, to have jurisdiction to return SIJS applicants into the custody of their parents, not just any guardian. The
immigrants say the policy is out of step with the Immigration and Nationality Act and violates the Administrative Procedure Act.
Judge Lasnik hinted in his Wednesday decision that he agrees with the immigrants’ arguments.
“There is no textual authority for the new requirement in the statute,” Judge Lasnik said. “Congress expressly made SIJ status
available to juveniles up to the age of twenty-one and, as a USCIS spokesperson acknowledged shortly after the new policy went
into effect, the change in policy generally excludes from protection any juvenile over the age of eighteen.”
The judge said he assumes that USCIS “has a legitimate concern regarding potential abuses of the SIJ program,” but he called
the rule change “not only unreasonable, but unnecessary.” He also said the rule appeared to violate the APA because it was
implemented without notifying the public and allowing time for comments.
Moreover, Judge Lasnik said, the immigrants are likely to miss out on certain benefits available to those in the SIJS program if
the policy weren’t blocked, at least until the case is resolved.
“These benefits provide relief from or make less likely removal from the United States and the loss of the relationships and
support systems these vulnerable youth have cobbled together in this country,” he said. “The loss of these benefits constitutes
The judge also granted the immigrants’ request to pursue their suit as a class on behalf of anyone affected by the policy change
via the Washington state court system.
Matt Adams, the legal director for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which represents the immigrants, said in a statement on
Wednesday that the ruling “grants critical relief to scores of vulnerable youth in Washington State who have been denied their
one opportunity to obtain lawful status under our current immigration laws.”
The suit was initially brought in March by three 19- and 20-year-olds from Mexico and Guatemala whose applications for SIJS
have been delayed or denied.
According to the suit, USCIS used to “routinely” approve SIJS petitions from young immigrants between 18 and 21 based on the
findings of state courts, and before 2017, the agency had never rejected a petition from a young adult applicant on the grounds
that the state court lacked the jurisdiction to return that applicant to his or her parents.
But in February 2018, the agency issued “new guidance” saying state courts must have jurisdiction to reunify prospective SIJS
petitioners with their parents in order to make the requisite finding that reunification with the parents is “not viable,” the suit
The agency then began denying SIJS petitions for applicants over age 18 from New York, California, Texas and later Washington
state based on “its novel position” that those states’ courts are not juvenile courts under the SIJS statute, according to the suit.
Advocates have filed suits over the policy change in federal courts in California and New York as well, both of which are still
A federal judge temporarily stopped the policy change from continuing in California in October, and in February, that judge
certified a class of immigrants who had received guardianship orders from a California state court but had their SIJS petitions
denied under the new USCIS policy.
The New York federal court heard oral arguments over the issue in that suit earlier this year.
The federal government has insisted in both courts that the increase in SIJS petition denials for youths over age 18 is not the
product of any policy change but rather part of the agency’s efforts to centralize adjudications to maintain consistency across
7/18/2019 USCIS Special Immigrant Juvenile Policy Blocked, For Now – Law360
USCIS declined on Wednesday to respond to a request for comment.
The proposed class is represented by Matt Adams, Leila Kang, Aaron Korthuis, Tim H. Warden-Hertz, Meghan Casey and Olivia
Gibbons of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
The government is represented by Matt Waldrop of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.
The case is Moreno Galvez et al. v. Cissna et al., case number 2:19-cv-00321, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of
–Additional reporting by Suzanne Monyak. Editing by Emily Kokoll.
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