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Attorney General William Tong

11/15/2019

ATTORNEY GENERAL TONG OPPOSES PLAN TO UNDERMINE IMMIGRATION PROTECTIONS FOR ABUSED CHILDREN

(Hartford, CT) -- Attorney General William Tong joined a coalition of 17 attorneys general, led by California, fighting against a federal proposal that would undermine immigration protections for abused children.

The newly proposed federal rule adds duplicative and arbitrary hurdles to children’s access to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJ). SIJ, a classification created by Congress in 1990, gives immigrant children who are abused, neglected, and abandoned a pathway to legal residency and citizenship. The proposed rule subverts the statutory role and expertise of states in safeguarding the welfare and best interests of children by requiring children seeking SIJ protection to needlessly repeat steps with the federal government that have already been properly handled by state 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. Between October 2013 and September 2019, adult sponsors in Connecticut welcomed 2,908 unaccompanied children, many of whom are eligible for SIJ.

"This country should not be turning its back on abused and abandoned children in need by erecting needlessly duplicative bureaucratic barriers to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. This proposal would directly impact children already here in Connecticut. Since 2013, we have welcomed nearly 3,000 unaccompanied children to our state, many of whom are eligible for SIJ status. Connecticut state courts are fully equipped to make appropriate determinations about whether these children are able to safely reunify with their parents, and there is zero need for federal immigration authorities to duplicate that work. America can and must be better than this," said Attorney General Tong.

The Trump Administration’s proposal threatens to undercut SIJ protections that have existed for decades. SIJ is a common-sense program based on a simple and universal principle of child welfare: We do not put children in harm's way. Under the existing process in Connecticut, state probate courts can issue a so-called "predicate order" finding that an immigrant child is unable to return to their birth country because of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Once a predicate order has been issued, the child can apply for SIJ status with the federal government. USCIS then 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 but also increase the burden on children. The federal government is now asking for the submission of additional evidence so that USCIS can make an independent determination that reunification is not possible, even though a state court would have already made that determination. This requirement and others undermine the deference and credit owed to state court decisions. And 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.

In filing the comment letter, Connecticut joins by the attorneys general of California, 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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