USCIS Makes It Easier for Aging Juvenile Delinquents to Get Amnesty

By David North on October 7, 2011

Not everyone benefiting from a currently proposed USCIS rule-change is an aging juvenile delinquent, but I suspect most of the people in the Special Immigrant Juvenile category fit that description. Most of the beneficiaries, if not all, are probably illegal aliens, as well.

The proposed USCIS regulation makes it easier for the applicants to get green cards, as explained subsequently.

The main eligibility requirement for this particular mini-amnesty is that you have to be “dependent on” or “under the custody” of a juvenile court. You also must have a court determination that your parents neglected, abandoned, or abused you, and that is usually the case for delinquents of all backgrounds.

The other main requirement is that some “administrative or judicial proceedings” – not necessarily an immigration court – must have ruled, to quote the USCIS instructions to the applicants, “that it would not be in the juvenile’s best interest to be returned to the juvenile’s or his or her parent’s country of nationality . . . [Emphasis added]”

Not the nation’s best interests, mind you, but the juvenile’s. Incidentally, that should be parents’ (plural possessive) but let’s not split hairs.

And what does the young person in the custody of the court get when he or she successfully files an I-360 form? This is the list of goodies, according to a cheerful “how-to” document issued about this immigration status by the Minnesota Department of Human Services:

  • Lawful permanent residency (LPR) or “green card”
  • Work permission upon receipt of LPR status
  • Minnesota identification card or driver’s license
  • Ability to travel or visit relatives outside the United States
  • Eventual path to citizenship (after five years)
  • Access to federal financial aid for college
  • Access to Chafee independent living funds, Support for Emancipation and Living Functionally (SELF) program in Minnesota
  • Other federal and state benefits and services

In other words, this is a specialized form of amnesty, written into the basic Immigration and Nationality Act. As for the Chafee funds, named for the late Republican Senator from Rhode Island, and Minnesota’s SELF program, each provides services and sometimes room and board funding for older adolescents (18-21) including those living alone. In short, it is a nice package.

Returning to the strictly immigration aspects of the program, it has been steadily expanding in recent years. These were the admissions reported in Table Seven of the Yearbooks of Immigration Statistics for the fiscal years noted:

2005 679

This, as suggested in previous blogs, is often the pattern for what appears to be a highly specialized new segment of the immigration law; after a while immigration lawyers, social workers, and the aliens themselves find out about it and use it more widely with every passing year.

Why this little amnesty program came to my attention is a story in itself. As noted in some previous blogs, such as one on the USCIS’s efforts to promote the tiny program for abused step-parents of U.S. citizens (making them potential immigrants), USCIS is gung-ho about making sure that every potential visa, is, in fact used to bring in more people, no matter how narrow the category.

Presumably with that motivation, USCIS recently announced in the Federal Register an effort to expand, mildly, the eligibility for these young people to secure amnesty. The new rule, which occupies nine full pages of the FR, twenty-seven columns of small type, makes the point that while one must be under 21 when one files for this kind of amnesty, one need not be under 21 at the time of the agency decision on the matter; there are other similar easements in the proposed rule making.

So one could be rather older than 21 when one gets a green card in this specialized way.

The FR notice, true to DHS form, does not mention any numbers, or that the beneficiaries may be delinquents, or that both the juveniles and their parents are probably illegal aliens. (The full text of the FR notice can also be seen starting at p. 2189 in the September 12 issue of Interpreter Releases, the immigration bar’s trade paper.)

On looking into the subject a little further I examined the I-360, the form that one must file to secure a green card in this way. The instructions for that form show, in precise detail, how the agency has stacked the deck in favor of the applicant.

In addition to a sensible demand for a birth certificate (to show age), the instructions also require the filing of: “Copies of the court or administrative document(s) upon which the claim to eligibility is based.”
Not all court documents, a set which would give DHS a sense of the total picture of the applicant, who, by definition has a court record, but only those that are needed to secure the green card.

Clearly some of those applying are not necessarily delinquents; one can be a victim of parental abuse, for instance, and be in the custody of a juvenile court. But if you attend a hearing in a juvenile court, as I have (as a spectator) from time to time, you will usually find that the great bulk of the young people present are there because of trouble of their own making.

This is, admittedly, a pretty specialized little amnesty program, one that is best navigated not by the juvenile alone but by a knowledgeable social worker or immigration attorney; further it evaporates if the juvenile does not apply before his or her 21st birthday. It is unlikely to make much of a dent on the size of the illegal-alien population, generally.

Its presence in the law, and the latest USCIS effort to expand its utilization, however, are instructive windows into the thought processes of both the Congress and the agency.

If a reader wishes to comment to the authorities on this proposed rule – suggesting, for instance, that we need not expand any of these small-scale, under-the-radar amnesties – the reader may do so by e-mailing [email protected], including “DHS Docket No. USCIS-2009-0004" in the subject line. This also can be done by postal mail. The deadline is November 7.