We're shouting a huge congratulations to our client Carlos, who became a Legal Permanent Resident this week!
Congratulations to our client Carlos on becoming a Legal Permanent Resident or LPR! This is the legal term for someone with a green card. We are so proud of Carlos and the patience, resilience, and hard work that have gotten him to this point. Carlos's case was truly a labor of love that encompassed multiple nonprofit organizations, lawyers, social workers, and the ongoing support of friends and family in order to get to this point.
Carlos arrived in the US in 2016 as an unaccompanied child, fleeing danger in his home country of Honduras. Carlos was processed through the immigration system as an unaccompanied minor and sent to a youth shelter run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, before being released to live with a relative in Philadelphia, where he would pursue his immigration case. Our Executive Director Rachel Rutter began representing Carlos in late 2016 through the Immigrant Youth Advocacy Project at HIAS Pennsylvania.
Carlos qualified for a special type of humanitarian immigration status called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status or SIJS -- but there was a catch. Carlos was just weeks away from turning 18 and permanently aging out of this special immigration option for youth. In order to qualify for SIJS, Carlos would need a family court order (like a custody or dependency order) making certain special findings before he turned 18. Thankfully, Jean Strout, a wonderful and accomplished attorney and youth advocate from the Support Center for Child Advocates, stepped up to help Carlos get the court order he needed just in the nick of time. Through SCCA, Carlos also had the support of a social worker, who helped him enroll in school, obtain medical care, and more.
Thanks to Jean's hard work obtaining that court order, Carlos was able to apply for SIJS in March 2017. The SIJS process takes years to complete. After applying, the government often requests more evidence. In Carlos's case, the government requested more evidence and even issued a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) the case, even though Carlos had a strong SIJS case. Ultimately, however, Carlos was able to fight the NOID, and his SIJS case was finally approved in December 2018 -- nearly two years after he applied!
However, Carlos's wait did not end there. After a child has approved SIJS, they still do not have any lawful immigration status, as confusing as that may sound. Rather, all that an approved SIJS gives the child is the opportunity to apply for a green card down the road, when it is finally their turn to apply. Whose turn it is to apply is determined through a confusing system called the USCIS visa bulletin.
There is a long backlog of SIJS cases for Central American children, meaning that many kids wait as long as three or four years just to apply for their green card after obtaining SIJS. In the meantime, SIJS kids are stuck in limbo, undocumented, and do not have the ability to work legally or obtain a social security number.
Project Libertad has had clients in this situation turn 18 before obtaining their green card and end up being detained by ICE in spite of their approved SIJS. In some areas of the US, it is common for immigration judges to order deportation for these children with approved SIJS, simply because a green card is not yet available for them. It is unconscionable that our inefficient and inhumane immigration system allows this to happen.
When Rachel left HIAS PA to launch the Immigrant Children's Defense Project at Project Libertad in February 2020, she brought Carlos's case with her. Carlos remained in SIJS purgatory. While Carlos awaited his turn to apply for his green card, he dealt patiently and graciously with the various struggles he faced as a result of the SIJS limbo. In October 2020 -- four years after his arrival in the United States -- his turn came, and Carlos applied for his green card. Finally, in August 2021, Carlos's green card was approved!
Thank you, Carlos, for the honor of representing you and watching you handle all of the challenges with grace as you grew from a teenager to a hard-working, caring, and compassionate adult. We can't wait to see what the future holds for you!