Volume 111

The Double Exclusion of Immigrant Youth

by Laila L. Hlass, Rachel Leya Davidson & Austin Kocher

Congress created Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) in 1990 to protect vulnerable children from deportation by providing a pathway to lawful permanent residency and citizenship. Although relatively few immigrant children applied for SIJS in the early years of the program, the number of SIJS petitions grew significantly over the past decade. The growth of SIJS petitions coincides with growing numbers of immigrant youth arriving at the U.S.–Mexico border and with the politicization of immigrant youth who are increasingly represented as national security threats. Despite the high stakes of SIJS cases, remarkably little empirical research examines the bureaucratic implementation, procedural outcomes, and social effects of the SIJS program. Immigrant youth who apply for SIJS may face discrimination based on age, immigration status, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and language use. SIJS petitioners are often approaching a formative stage of social development, the transition from childhood to adulthood, which exacerbates the consequences of SIJS delays and outcomes. Moreover, SIJS petitioners are subject to disparities in representation, immigration and criminal enforcement, and access to visas based on national quotas determined by Congress. There is, therefore, an urgent need to understand whether the SIJS program accomplishes its stated goal of protecting children or undermines its humanitarian objectives by exacerbating immigrant children’s vulnerability.

To address this need, this Article presents a systematic study of children seeking SIJS and SIJS-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status using anonymized case-by-case SIJS data obtained from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through the Freedom of Information Act. 

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