The Racial Justice Imperative to Reimagine Immigrant Children’s Rights: Special Immigrant Juveniles as a Case Study

77 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2022 Last revised: 28 Jun 2022

See all articles by Dalia Castillo-Granados

Dalia Castillo-Granados

Children’s Immigration Law Academy (CILA)

Rachel L. Davidson

National Immigration Project

Laila Hlass

Tulane University - Law School

Rebecca Scholtz

National Lawyers Guild

Date Written: April 2022

Abstract

The immigration legal system has codified and perpetuated racial violence in many ways, yet the experiences of young people of color in this system has yet to be deeply examined. This Article surfaces the distinct and varied racialized harms that children experience in the immigration system through the example of Special Immigrant Juveniles. Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is the only immigration status created for and limited to children. A child—defined in immigration law as someone who is under 21 year of age and unmarried—is eligible to seek SIJS with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if a state court has found that the child has been abandoned, abused, or neglected by a parent and it is not in their best interests to return to their country of origin. USCIS’s approval of a child’s SIJS petition does not provide an absolute protection from deportation on its own, but it creates a pathway to apply for a work permit and lawful permanent resident (LPR) status—often referred to as a “green card.” These benefits have the potential to create more security in the young person’s life. On their pathway to LPR status, immigrant youth seeking SIJS experience precarity in their lives and racialized harms within the immigration system.

In Part One this Article examines how racism has been implicated in immigration law and legal systems, and how immigrant children are impacted by racism, even though this has been understudied. In Part Two, this article focuses on three features of the SIJS legal framework to understand how the law’s design and implementation has resulted in racialized harms: the consent function, the SIJS backlog, and the process by which SIJS children seek LPR status. Part III offers specific prescriptions as interim steps to address the racialized harms and challenges special immigrant juveniles face. Ultimately, it calls for a racial justice analysis of the immigration legal system as it applies to children.

Keywords: immigration, immigrant children, Special Immigrant Juvenile, immigrant youth, children's rights, crimmigration, racial justice, unaccompanied minor, deportation, migrant children, immigration enforcement

Suggested Citation

Castillo-Granados, Dalia and Davidson, Rachel L. and Hlass, Laila and Scholtz, Rebecca, The Racial Justice Imperative to Reimagine Immigrant Children’s Rights: Special Immigrant Juveniles as a Case Study (April 2022). 71 American University Law Review 1779 (2022), Tulane Public Law Research Paper No. 21-11, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4083364 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4083364

Dalia Castillo-Granados

Children’s Immigration Law Academy (CILA) ( email )

United States

Rachel L. Davidson

National Immigration Project ( email )

2201 Wisconsin Ave
Washington, DC
United States

Laila Hlass (Contact Author)

Tulane University - Law School ( email )

6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States
5048628815 (Phone)

Rebecca Scholtz

National Lawyers Guild ( email )

United States

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