CBA Record Sept-Oct 2019


Pro Bono Week 2019 Access to Counsel and Protecting the U.S. Immigration System

By Ellen Miller

G rowing up in Nigeria, John (not his real name) did not have a reliable source of food, shelter, or other necessities. He often had to beg or do small errands for strangers on the street just to feed himself. John’s father beat his mother, and one night, he raised his hand against John. That night, John decided he could not continue to live this way. He left his family and, at 16 years old, journeyed alone to the United States. After some time in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), John was released to sponsors in Chicago. John’s new guardians found pro bono legal representation for him through the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), a legal aid and immigrant rights

abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both of their parents and for whom it is determined not in their best interest to return to their native countries. SIJS requires a family court to make a custody determination regarding the immigrant child and, as part of that determination, find that the child meets the SIJS criteria. Once the family court has determined custody, the child can apply for SIJS. Having SIJS opens the door to an appli- cation for lawful permanent residence, more commonly known as a green card. In the past few years, an onslaught of policies have attacked our country’s immigration system, violating demo- cratic principles such as due process and threatening the safety and wellbeing of immigrants, including children. United

advocacy organization headquartered in Chicago. With the help of the pro bono attorneys, John’s sponsors obtained a custody order, in which the judge found that John’s reunification with his parents was not viable due to their neglect and abandonment, and that it would not be in John’s best interest to return to Nige- ria. This order allowed John to obtain a special form of immigration relief called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), which provided a route to U.S. citizen- ship. One step closer to living safely in the United States, John enrolled in a local university, where he currently receives a scholarship to study. Congress created the SIJS visa to provide protection for undocumented immigrant children who have been

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