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Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul
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November 14, 2019

ATTORNEY GENERAL RAOUL OPPOSES FEDERAL PROPOSAL UNDERMINING IMMIGRATION PROTECTIONS FOR ABUSED CHILDREN

Chicago — Attorney General Kwame Raoul today joined a coalition of 17 state attorneys general opposing 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 already are handled lawfully by state juvenile courts.

In a comment letter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Raoul and the coalition are calling on the federal government to withdraw this proposed rule, which risks inflicting additional trauma on thousands of vulnerable children. In the 2018 fiscal year, there were 21,917 SIJ applications nationwide. Between October 2013 and September 2019, adult sponsors in Illinois welcomed 3,176 unaccompanied children, many of whom are eligible for SIJ.

“This proposal unnecessarily creates a duplicative step in the immigration process without any additional benefit to the juveniles who are requesting this status,” Raoul said. “For nearly 30 years, Illinois juvenile courts have handled these requests without issue. This change would delay access to important programs and services for vulnerable children.”

The federal government’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 the 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.

The proposed rule on SIJ creates new layers of red tape that not only duplicate existing state functions but also increase the burden on children. The federal government is now asking for additional evidence that reunification is not viable under state law, despite the fact that a state court makes 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 letter, Raoul and the coalition note that it is not USCIS’s role to second-guess or re-adjudicate determinations lawfully made by state courts.

Joining Raoul in filing the comment letter are attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.

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