May 19, 2020
Prof. Andrea Ramos and the Immigration Law Clinic Triumph in Crusade for Immigrant Rights
A fight against an unlawful government policy designed to deny immigrant foster children permanent residency status culminates in a spectacular win.
Prof. Andrea Ramos and the Southwestern Law School Immigration Law Clinic have scored a momentous victory for the rights of immigrant children. Partnered with an extraordinary pro bono team of lawyers from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, they embarked on a battle advocating for children seeking immigration relief under Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a form of humanitarian immigration relief for abused, neglected or abandoned children who are under juvenile court jurisdiction. Their class-action suit has resulted in a preliminary injunction, advising the government against denying SIJS cases based on an unlawful policy.
Prof. Ramos details the origins of the case. "In late 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) imposed a new requirement for SIJS eligibility that does not exist anywhere in the law. The requirement is not in the federal statute, regulations, or USCIS policy manual. USCIS never published its purported new guidance and began denying cases."
"If the foster youth loses the ability to obtain a green card through SIJS, they are at risk for removal from the United States." - Prof. Andrea Ramos
When the USCIS began to issue requests for evidence ("RFE") and notices of intent to deny ("NOID") based on this new approach, Prof. Ramos felt the effects directly. "After responding to an RFE in 2017 and a NOID in 2018, I received one of the first denials of a foster child on this ground." She quickly leaped into action. "I spent several months speaking with attorneys and social workers throughout California and interviewing their clients who received similar RFEs or denials. I began collecting data to serve as a basis for a class-action lawsuit."
The team’s work paid off; The District Court in the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction and enjoined the government from denying SIJS cases based on the unlawful policy and from initiating removal or removing any SIJS petitioner based on the policy.
Prof. Ramos offers a pointed explanation for why SIJS is so critical. "My client and many other children are not eligible for any other form of immigration relief. SIJS is the only avenue for obtaining lawful permanent residency status. If the foster youth loses the ability to obtain a green card through SIJS, they are at risk for removal from the United States."