Minors who are fleeing violence and gang persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have been arriving alone since late 2013 at the United States-Mexico border. Thanks to a law aimed at fighting human trafficking, they may qualify for free representation in immigration court. CARECEN is one of several community organizations contracted by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to represent these children.
Recent estimates show that almost 3,400 children who arrived unaccompanied live in Los Angeles County. CARECEN has two teams of attorneys -- one in our headquarters and one in our San Fernando Valley office -- to represent unaccompanied children in the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles immigration court. That includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties. We do active outreach to ensure these children are not alone when they face the immigration system.
Generally, unaccompanied minors who arrive in the United States and end up in the custody of ORR may be eligible to remain and reunite with family through one of two remedies: Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and Asylum.
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) allows undocumented children under the age of 21 who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents to obtain lawful, permanent immigration status within the United States.
Qualifying children must meet certain initial criteria codified in the law, including:
- The applicant must be under 21 years old
- He/she must be unmarried
- He/she must be declared a dependent of the state; in other words, a state court must have taken jurisdiction over the applicant's petition
- Reunification with one or both of the applicant’s parents must no longer be a viable option
- It is not in the best interest of the applicant to return to his/her home country
SIJS has several benefits. First, it allows factors that would otherwise disqualify other applicants from becoming a permanent resident (getting a green card), such as unlawful entry or working without a permit. A child who receives SIJS status can become a lawful permanent resident, get a work permit, and eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. However, under SIJS, the child cannot petition for immigration benefits on behalf of birth parents, siblings, or other family members.
Each case is different and the details determine what remedy, if any, is available. We sometimes find that children who arrived unaccompanied may qualify for other forms of relief, such as a U-visa or a family petition. We always recommend families seek help from a qualified immigration attorney and especially avoid notarios or immigration consultants who do not have a law license through the California Bar.
If you are a sponsor of an unaccompanied child, or you know of an unaccompanied child who needs representation, please call Angela Morales at CARECEN, (213) 385-7800 x147.
If you are a parent who would like to have their child brought to the United States through In-Country Processing, contact the International Rescue Committee, (818) 550-6220 x110.
La Opinión’s Araceli Martinez wrote an article detailing the treatment of Central American refugees by Mexican authorities, as described by human rights activists from Mexico. The group, which was part of an all-day retreat on the subject sponsored by the UCARE coalition, included Olga Sánchez, the director of Jesús El Buen Pastor shelter for migrants maimed by trains in Tapachula. Sánchez also attended a fundraiser at CARECEN for her cause on November 18, 2015.Read more
Univision did a long piece about unaccompanied Central American children and how local organizations were responding to come to their aid. It included a preview of the Brazos Abiertos Resource Fair.Read more
La Opinión featured CARECEN clients in its report of a news conference announcing the Brazos Abiertos Resource Fair for unaccompanied children and refugee families, which was to be held at la Placita on November 14, 2015.Read more
EFE did an interview with José Guadalupe Ruelas, a human rights leader from Honduras who spoke on October 8, 2015 at CARECEN regarding the danger and threats children face when they are deported back to Central America after trying to flee the violence there.Read more
Estrella TV did a follow-up report on the Guardian Angels program, which works with CARECEN and is looking after unaccompanied minors from Central America when they show up for their court dates, after a story appeared in La Opinión. They were nice enough to list CARECEN as an organization that gives them legal representation at 2:28.Read more
The writer Juan Carlos Villalobos, who wrote a profile of two unaccompanied young people in February, wrote this piece about his experience working with them for the website English PEN in April.Read more
The online Matter Magazine published a report by the writer Juan Carlos Villalobos that followed the lives of two unaccompanied minors who had crossed the border just before the surge of about 58,000 young people who arrived from Central America in 2014. Both were clients of CARECEN.Read more
Immigrant Rights Organizations Converge on Congressman Kevin Mccarthy’s Office to Demand That He Defend Existing Protections for Unaccompanied Minors
(October 9, 2014, Los Angeles) – A statewide coalition of immigrant rights groups today launched caravans that converged in front of the Bakersfield offices of Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) to demand that he defend the law protecting unaccompanied children from Central America.Read more
(September 9, 2014, Los Angeles) – A coalition of community groups urges Sen. Dianne Feinstein to be a vocal champion of unaccompanied children detained at the border in light of President Obama’s decision this weekend to postpone administrative relief.Read more