URGENT CALL TO ACTION: Virginia Legislation

URGENT CALL TO ACTION:  Virginia Legislation

Please see follow-up Information on How you Can Assist:

Thank you all for your partnership in addressing SB1592, a bill that--among many other things—would strip a long-held, critical, appropriate duty from Virginia JDR courts.

SB1592 (Black - R, Loudoun): A bill that would strip the ability of JDR courts in Virginia to make best interest findings in cases of kids without documentation for purposes of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status petitions.

The bill will likely be on the Senate Courts docket on the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 1 — the committee will meet 15 minutes after adjournment in Senate Room B in the General Assembly building. It can be difficult to predict when the Senate will adjourn each day, but in recent days they have adjourned anywhere from 1PM to 2PM. 

You can find the names of committee members here: if you click on their names, you will find contact info for calling purposes: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?171+com+S3

If you are unsure who your Senator is, click on the “Who’s My Legislator?” tab at the top of the page here: http://virginiageneralassembly.gov/index.php

Strategy:

  1. Calls from constituents to Senate Courts committee members: if you are the constituent of a Senate Courts committee member, you can call their General Assembly office number and register your opposition to the bill. 
  • Introduce yourself
  • Say you are a constituent of the Senator
  • Say the bill number and that you oppose the legislation (SB1592)
  • Give a couple of the talking points to underscore your opposition to the bill.  (See below.)
  • Ask that your Senator vote NO on SB1592
  1. Attend the committee hearing on Wednesday and be prepared to speak, but also be prepared not to speak: if discussion on the bill seems to be suggesting it will fail, we may want to go lighter on in-person testimony and just have a few folks at the ready with the talking points.
  2. If the bill somehow survives Senate Courts committee, we will reassess immediately: we will then still have the floor vote and the various House committees, floor, etc., and then ultimately the Governor to make the bill go away.

Main Talking Points: 

Please stress the role of the juvenile court and the pending litigation over this very issue.  Please go light on immigration consequences, unless you know that will be an effective talking point for your audience.

  1. The JDR Courts are courts who are most knowledgeable and experienced in making best interest findings to address the needs of children. This bill would signal a significant departure from the traditionally broad remedial powers of the juvenile court to act in the best interest of children who come before it.
  2. Children come before the court in these particular hearings because they are potentially abused, neglected or abandoned. The overwhelming majority of SIJ applicants have suffered and been deeply affected by trauma stemming from intra-familial violence and other family crises. Some have suffered years of physical and sexual violence at the hands of close family members. Others have been starved, forced to work, and deprived of an education and medical care. Others are orphans with no one to care for them.
  3. Any legislation related to courts that make best interest findings in such SIJS cases is premature as there is current litigation in the Virginia Court of Appeals considering these matters: EDY CANALES v. Record No. 1073-16-4 MARVIN ALEJANDRO TORRES ORELLANA

Only if asked . . .

Q: What is SIJS?

Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status was introduced through the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990 for children who had been deemed eligible for long-term foster care in the U.S.  It is a 27-year-old law signed into being by George HW Bush. To be eligible for SIJ status, a child must be under 21, unmarried, dependent on a state juvenile court, unable to reunify with one or both of her parents due to abuse, abandonment, neglect or a similar basis under state law; and not in child’s best interest to return to her country of origin. The process for obtaining SIJ status is a unique hybrid procedure that hinges on the collaboration of state and federal systems.  In creating SIJ status, Congress relied on state courts to safeguard the welfare of these children and ensure their placement with safe caregivers. Congress’ decision to delegate this fact-finding prerequisite to state courts – rather than the immigration courts is logical: state juvenile courts regularly make findings regarding the best interests of children and are the experts on this standard. Immigration courts have no such expertise.

Q: Why should state juvenile courts make immigration decisions?

The JDR Court in these hearings merely makes a finding of fact related to the abuse/neglect/abandonment and best interests of where the child should be, given that abuse/neglect. Appearing in these JDR hearings does not guarantee the court will make the necessary findings that an SIJS petition requires, and even if the court does make such findings, it does not guarantee an SIJS petition will be successful. Only federal immigration authorities can decide whether a child will receive SIJ status.  The child’s case is vetted carefully throughout multiple stages of the process, and JDR is the appropriate court to make best interest findings.

Q: Why should we let people exploit the SIJ process?  

The state courts and USCIS act to uncover and prevent fraud so that this is a minimal risk. Even if a JDR makes the necessary findings of fact that could enable an SIJ petition to be considered by federal immigration authorities, SIJ is not a legal status entitling a child to remain in this country. A child with SIJS remains subject to removal (deportation) unless and until he or she applies for a green card, i.e., lawful permanent residency, and seeks relief from deportation. Moreover, a child who receives SIJS will not be able to use her new lawful immigration status to help her original parents to get lawful status, even if parental rights were not terminated. Furthermore, petitioning for SIJS necessarily means that these youth become known by federal immigration authorities and can be subject to deportation if their petitions are unsuccessful.

Thank you for your partnership in opposing this bill. We will work this situation closely and send updates as needed.