California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Third Division
Original proceedings; petition for a writ of mandate to challenge an order of the Superior Court of Orange County, Gregory W. Jones, Judge. Petition granted. (Super. Ct. No. DL042745).
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University of California, Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic and Sameer M. Ashar; Public Counsel and Kristen Jackson, for Petitioner.
No appearance for respondent.
Rachel Prandini for Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, Inc., Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project; Jennifer Nagda and Maria Woltjen, pro hac vice, for Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights at the University of Chicago, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.
Sixteen-year-old Leslie H. petitions for unopposed writ relief after the juvenile court denied her request to make the necessary factual findings to enable her to apply to federal officials for classification as an abused, neglected, or abandoned special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) under title 8 United States Code section 1101(a)(27)(J) (SIJ statute or section 1101(a)(27)(J)) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The juvenile court concluded Leslie's delinquency adjudication as a ward of the court (Welf. & Inst., § 602), commitment for 120 days to juvenile hall, and eventual release on supervised probation did not suffice under the SIJ statute to identify her as a child in dependent, committed, or custodial care. The juvenile court similarly found her delinquency status disqualifying on an unrelated SIJ factual question— the viability of parental reunification— and rejected Leslie's claim she could not return to her abusive mother and absent father. On a third SIJ factor, whether the minor's best interests include repatriation, the juvenile court again found Leslie's delinquency status disqualifying. Although Leslie had no one to return to in Mexico other than her abusive mother or her father who abandoned her, the court based its best interests conclusion on its observation that immigrant parents sometimes " send their children back to Mexico to get them out of the negative environment that has placed them in the juvenile court."
In 1990, Congress enacted the SIJ statute to open a path for abused, neglected, and abandoned undocumented minors to become lawful permanent residents. ( In re Y.M. (2012) 207 Cal.App.4th 892, 910, 144 Cal.Rptr.3d 54.) " Rather than being deported along with abusive or neglectful parents, or deported to parents who had abandoned them once in the United States, such children may seek special status to remain in the United States." ( Yeboah v. Department of Justice (3d Cir.2003) 345 F.3d 216, 221.) " SIJ status allows a juvenile immigrant to remain in the United States and seek lawful permanent resident status if federal authorities conclude that [certain] statutory conditions are met." ( In re Interest of Erick M. (2012) 284 Neb. 340, 820 N.W.2d 639, 641.) A minor who obtains SIJ status may apply after five years to become a naturalized citizen. ( Zheng v. Pogash (S.D.Texas 2006) 416 F.Supp.2d 550, 554 [citing federal SIJ status petition guidelines].)
As we explain, the juvenile court's policy conclusions about the general unsuitability of juvenile wards for potential immigration status adjustments were misplaced under the SIJ statute. The statute commits to a juvenile court only the limited, factfinding role of identifying abused, neglected, or abandoned alien children under its jurisdiction who cannot reunify with a parent or be safely returned to their home country. The evidence does not support the juvenile court's conclusions on these questions. To the contrary, the evidence overwhelmingly supports Leslie's request for the necessary findings to enable her to file her SIJ application with the appropriate federal authorities. The juvenile court could not reasonably deny her request, and we therefore grant her writ relief to vacate the juvenile court's order and substitute a new and different order sustaining the relevant SIJ factual findings.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL ...