Newark, NJ- An August 26th ruling from the New Jersey Supreme Court clarified the role judges in Family Part play in cases involving undocumented immigrant children who are vulnerable to abuse and neglect in their native countries. By clarifying Family Part judges’ roles, the ruling gives vulnerable immigration children the necessary protections and better chances of obtaining special immigration juvenile status.
The NJ Supreme Court’s decision in H.S.P. v. J.K. and K.G. v. M.S. was a consolidation of two cases which involved immigrant children who entered the U.S. without authorization and were seeking special juvenile immigrant status (SJIS), which would allow them to pursue permanent residency and eventually citizenship. SJIS is granted to undocumented immigrant children who potentially face abuse, neglect or abandonment if they returned to their country of origin.
Under the Immigration Act of 1990 and the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, lawmakers established a dual process for determining if immigrant children are eligible for special immigration status. First, family court judges, who better understand the needs of children, are instructed to gather evidence and determine if the child in question faces abuse, neglect or abandonment if they return home. Then, based on the finding of the family court judges, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services determines if the child should be granted SJIS.
In their unanimous decision, the NJ Supreme Court instructed Family Part judges to consider the best interests of the child under New Jersey law. Justices emphasized that the decision to grant a young immigrant special juvenile immigration status is ultimately up to USCIS, but recognized the important role Family Part judges play in that determination.
One of the cases, H.S.P. v. J.K., involved a young man from India, identified as M.S., whose mother sent him to live with his uncle in the U.S. M.S. was abandoned by his father at age 4 and lived with his mother until she fell ill. At age 15 M.S. was forced to take a grueling construction job that left him with skin and back problems.
In 2010, M.S. was sent to live with his uncle, H.S.P., who eventually sought and was granted custody of the minor. However, the Family Part did not find M.S. faced abuse, neglect or abandonment if he returned to India and his petition and did not rule on what was in the young man’s best interest.
The other case, K.G. v. M.S., revolved around two girls from El Salvador who were living with their father in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Their father was murdered in 2013 and the girls went back to El Salvador to live with relatives for a brief period of time. Eventually, the girls returned to the U.S. to live with their mother who was granted custody.
In that case, a Family Part judge ruled it would not be in the best interest of the girls to return to El Salvador, but did not determine they faced abuse, neglect or abandonment. And, as a consequence, they were denied special juvenile immigrant status and their case was appealed.
The N.J. Supreme Court reversed both lower court decisions.
In the court opinion, NJ Supreme Court Justice Mary Catherine Cuff instructed judges to evaluate each parent and determine if individual if either parent poses a risk to their child or children. Family Part judges were further instructed to consider the best interest of a child in regards to New Jersey laws as opposed to the laws in the immigrant child’s native country. This ruling will give immigrant children a stronger body of evidence to show federal agencies why they deserve special immigration status.
This ruling is beneficial to immigrants in New Jersey and will help protect immigrant children. I understand the importance of rulings like this one and watch such cases closely. This allows me to better serve the needs of my immigration clients and increase their chances of success. If you are located in Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth or Trenton, contact my office and we can set up a time to talk about your case.
I have successfully helped immigrants in New Jersey with a wide range of immigration issues and can do the same for you. My knowledge of federal immigration laws and New Jersey statutes makes well-suited to assist you with your case. Visit us at http://EricmarkLaw.com, or our Jersey City Office