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J.U. v. J.C.P.C.

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

January 4, 2018

J.U., Appellant,
v.
J.C.P.C., Appellee.

          Submitted November 20, 2017

         Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (DRB-3166-16) (Hon. Hiram E. Puig-Lugo, Trial Judge)

          Evgenia V. Sorokina was on the brief for appellant.

          Before Fisher and Beckwith, Associate Judges, and Steadman, Senior Judge.

         JUDGMENT

         This case was submitted to the court on the transcript of record, the briefs filed, and without presentation of oral argument. On consideration whereof, and as set forth in the opinion filed this date, it is now hereby

         ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the trial court's order of October 31, 2016, is vacated and the case is remanded to enter an amended order that includes the requisite SIJ status finding that C.J.P.U.'s reunification with his father is not viable due to abandonment under District of Columbia law.

          Steadman, Senior Judge.

         C.J.P.U., the minor at the heart of this appeal, illegally entered this country in 2015 as an unaccompanied fourteen-year-old teenager from El Salvador to join his mother ("J.U." or "appellant"), who has been living here since 2005.[1] He seeks to remain in this country as a juvenile qualified for "special immigrant juvenile" status ("SIJ"). Among other requirements, to achieve this status a juvenile court must find that "reunification with 1 or both of the immigrant's parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis found under State law." 8 U.S.C. § 1101 (a)(27)(J) (2009 Supp. II). The issue before us is whether the trial court erred in refusing to make such a finding with respect to C.J.P.U.'s father ("J.C.P.C." or "appellee"), who remains in El Salvador. We agree with the mother that, on the record before us, such a finding is mandated.

         I. The SIJ Status Statute[2]

         Under the immigration laws of the United States, an immigrant juvenile, or someone acting on their behalf, may petition for SIJ status. As originally enacted in 1990, the statute required a finding that a juvenile applicant was "eligible for long-term foster care, " 8 U.S.C. § 1101 (a)(27)(J) (1998 Supp. III), thus effectively limiting the status to juveniles who had no parent to care for them.

         In 2008, the provision was revised and expanded and now reads as follows:

[a special immigrant juvenile is] an immigrant who is present in the United States - (i) who has been declared dependent on a juvenile court located in the United States or whom such a court has legally committed to, or placed under the custody of, an agency or department of a State, or an individual or entity appointed by a State or juvenile court located in the United States, and whose reunification with 1 or both of the immigrant's parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis found under State law; (ii) for whom it has been determined in administrative or judicial proceedings that it would not be in the alien's best interest to be returned to the alien's or parent's previous country of nationality or country of last habitual residence; and (iii) in whose case the Secretary of Homeland Security consents to the grant of special immigrant juvenile status[.]

8 U.S.C. § 1101 (a)(27)(J)(i)-(iii). The current law also requires the applicant be under twenty-one years of age and unmarried. See 8 C.F.R. § 204.11 (c)(1), (2).[3]Notably for present purposes, "long-term foster care" was replaced with the requirement that reunification not be viable with "[one] or both" parents due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment, significantly broadening eligibility for SIJ status. Now, an SIJ applicant need not be in foster care or the child welfare system to be eligible. A finding is sufficient for SIJ status if reunification with only one parent is not viable due to abuse, neglect, or ...


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