2014 August

Diana’s Difficulties – Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

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Teenage girl

All of my “Client” blog entries so far have endings. This one is still playing itself out but I am writing it now because it is an important story to tell.

“Diana” is fourteen years old. Like most other children, she has dealt with challenges in her life. I am imagining the challenges many of my readers faced by that age – final exams, not having the right clothes for the big party, losing a cellphone with important contact information.

Here are the challenges Diana has faced. She was born in El Salvador, the daughter of a gang member she never met, and a teenage mother. Diana’s mother had no way to earn a living, so after her own mother threw her out, she started renting Diana out to any man willing to pay to spend time with a very young girl. This went on for a couple of years, until Diana ran away from home. Her US citizen aunt in America had promised her that she would keep Diana safe from violence, if only Diana could get to America. Now Diana faced the challenge of how to pay the smuggler. The smuggler, a very helpful man, suggested that Diana could earn money for her journey with the skills her mother had taught her.

Diana made it to America after several months spent earning the smuggler’s fee, in El Salvador and all the way north through Mexico, and was promptly caught by immigration agents. Her aunt bonded her out of detention and brought her home to Prince William County, Virginia. The aunt is willing and able to support Diana emotionally and financially. Diana is eligible for “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status,” (SIJS) which is a procedure through which children who have been “abused, abandoned or neglected” by their parents can become lawful permanent residents of the United States. Congress has written these laws to protect the most vulnerable among us.

Diana’s case sounds like a slam dunk, right? She has been “abused, abandoned and neglected,” by any definition one could write. But Diana faces a huge obstacle, one which we are not sure we can overcome. Before she can apply to US Citizenship and Immigration Services for SIJS, she needs a court order, not only giving guardianship to her aunt, but also making the specific finding that she has been “abused, abandoned or neglected” by her parents. We have learned that the judges in certain parts of Virginia are reluctant to make these formal findings in potential SIJS cases, not wishing to interject themselves into the immigration process. Never mind that they make these findings on behalf of American children all the time.

We are cautiously optimistic that Diana’s very compelling case will be among the first to overcome one of these judges’ reluctance to act. I hope to update this blog entry in the next few months with the news that Diana has finally found the refuge that she has needed since birth.

I have included some video snapshots from AILA members on the ground of Artesia describing how others like Diana are being treated by “the system” when they are caught crossing the southern border:

Bao’s Brilliant Son – an Immigration Success Story

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“Bao’s” son “Xing” is a brilliant student. As a high school senior, he played violin in the college orchestra. He was captain of his high school’s math team, which won several state championships and then came in second on a national level.

Bao came to the United States with her family when Xing was about three years old. At the time, Bao and her husband were undergrad students. As foreign students, ineligible for FAFSA or in-state benefits, they subsidized the Americans attending their universities. They remained through Bao’s Ph.D. and eventual position as a professor.

Bao and her husband are athletes and her field of expertise is teaching coaches to excel. She ended up training one of the coaches whose team won an Olympic gold medal. The college team that her husband coached won a national championship.

Bao and her husband have always paid taxes. But as Xing approached college age several years ago, he was not eligible for FAFSA or even in-state tuition. The solution was for Bao and her family to become US permanent residents. When I met them, they had started applying for this status years before. Although they were fully qualified, quotas kept them from getting final approval; there were still many thousands “in line” ahead of them.

Bao had applied for permanent residence as a university professor, a category that is virtually guaranteed for approval. However, only 7% are allotted to citizens of any one country each year. Chinese and Indian citizens are severely effected by this quota, simply because of the sheer numbers of applicants.

Time was running out. Xing would be a high school senior within a year, but the family was not likely to have made it to the front of the “quota line.” So Bao contacted me to discuss a way to sidestep the line. She would submit a new application for permanent residence, paying a new set of fees. But this time, she would try a more complex procedure; “outstanding professor,” not just “university professor.” Although there is also a quota for the “outstanding professor” category, it is never over-subscribed.

So Bao and I got to work. We gathered certificates showing her achievements, a list of the many citations to her published papers, letters from her peers discussing how she stood out among them, and evidence that she had trained coaches who had gone on to highly successful careers. Her application package took well over a ream of paper.

It was late October of Xing’s senior year of high school. The deadline for early-decision applications to his first-choice university was drawing near. But he held off on submitting the application, waiting for the day he could check off “permanent resident” in the citizenship category section.

Coincidentally, I had planned a trip to visit Bao and several of my other clients at her university, several hundred miles from my office, in mid November. On about November 5, we received notification that Bao had been approved for permanent residence as an “outstanding professor,” with her husband and son obtaining the status as derivatives. They got their cards in the mail the day before I visited their university.

I had never met Bao before that day; like many of my clients, all of our interactions had been by phone, fax, email and Fed Ex. The day I met them, they were thrilled to show me the cards demonstrating their new status.

Xing ended up at his first choice, nationally-recognized university, where he excelled in his classes. The family is an American success story!