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Visa is option for some undocumented immigrants in foster care

Earlier this month, we discussed President Barack Obama exercising his executive authority by ordering the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The DACA program will allow young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally by their parents to apply for a temporary deportation reprieve.

The program will provide two-year work permits to young immigrants who meet a variety of qualifications, however it offers no citizenship path and the future of the program is unknown. Because it came into existence by an executive order, a future president could overturn it. However, some undocumented immigrants here in Miami do have other options to pursue legal status. One option that is a good fit for some is the special immigrant juvenile status visa, SIJS.

The SIJS visa has several advantages over the work permit offered by DACA. For one, the SIJS visa program is permanent and has been since it was started in 1997. Additionally, it does provide a citizenship path and cannot be revoked unless the visa-holder commits a serious crime.

The SIJS visa tends to be used by undocumented minor immigrants who are in the foster care system as dependents of the state, although minors who are under guardianships or custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement may also qualify for the visa.

The visa is for juveniles who have little to no chance of being reunited with their parents or relatives. In the cases of some foster care children, this may be because their parents were deported.

It can be difficult to receive the visa, however, even for minors who do qualify for its protection. That is because in many jurisdictions, even though the program has been around for quite awhile, judges and officials are unfamiliar with this visa. In order to receive the visa, a judge must agree that it is in the child's best interest to remain in the U.S. rather than be reunited with his or her family in another country.

Source: The Washington Post, "Special visa program offers citizenship path for illegal immigrant youth in foster care," Aug. 25, 2012

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