Since the changeover to the new administration, there have been numerous unanswered questions about the status of immigrants, especially those who are part of various special interest groups. Perhaps no one is more at risk than the unaccompanied minors who make the trip from Central and South America, and it is entirely understandable that many may wonder about what awaits them when they arrive.
Current USCIS Regulations
Currently, unaccompanied minors may seek Special Immigrant Juvenile status. Or, they may apply for asylum on their own, depending on their situation, if they have no family in the country to sponsor them. Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status is designed to assist minors who have been abused or abandoned, and as such, has certain restrictions—a juvenile may obtain a green card through the program, but he or she may never petition for his or her parents to do the same, unlike immigrants who adjust status after reaching 18 years of age.
The criteria for SIJ status is quite strict—you must have a court order showing that you are either a ward of the court, or that you cannot be reunited with a parent (regardless of where they are) due to abuse.
Asylum is a somewhat less laborious process, but it generally takes longer to be decided. If you are under the age of 18, if you are not in lawful status (that is, you have no valid visa or green card), and if you profess a well-founded fear of persecution or mistreatment if you are returned to your home country, you may begin asylum proceedings. It is important to note, however, that if your parents are still in your life, you may be asked about them and why you cannot return home to them.
In February 2017, the new administration issued guidance via the Department of Homeland Security that proposes to tighten the standard for both asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors. Guidance is not binding, but the release of such information implies that there are likely plans to introduce these proposals if it can be done. The intended purpose is to allegedly cut down on abuses of the system by those who have aged out, but there is little evidence to support that such things are happening.
Currently, the standard for asylum is to establish that one has a credible fear of future persecution if he or she is returned to his or her homeland, based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. The proposed guidance suggests extra investigation into the overall credibility of the threats faced by the potential asylee—though critics suggest that potential problems may arise as cultural factors are likely to be ignored. A similar fate may occur for the SIJ standards—requiring more proof before it will be granted, ignoring the fact that many may not be able to produce such proof of their situation.
Ask a Knowledgeable Attorney
In this tumultuous period, it can be a significant advantage to know your rights. If you have questions about your status or how it might change, consulting the Chicago immigration attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices LLC can help ease your mind. Contact us today to set up an initial appointment.
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