Pro Bono Victory Protects Immigrant Young People

Thousands of abused, abandoned, or neglected minors once again have path to US citizenship.

March 18, 2019

US District Judge John Koeltl has sided on behalf of plaintiffs and a class of about 3,000 similarly situated youth, represented by the Legal Aid Society and Latham & Watkins, concerning who can qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) in New York State. Since 2008, SIJS has served as a legal pathway for unaccompanied minors under the age of 21 who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents to obtain lawful permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship. 

A policy changed in 2018 by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reinterpreted the law in a manner that effectively precluded minors between the ages of 18 and up to 21 from qualifying for SIJS. This unannounced, and unilateral, policy change impacted thousands of young adults across the United States. In June, a New York-based team led by partner Rob Malionek filed a class action with the Legal Aid Society on behalf of five young adults who applied for but were denied SIJS.    

“It is our duty as lawyers to protect those who are most in need. Congress created the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status program in 1990 to protect a particularly vulnerable group – young immigrants who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by a parent. We are pleased with the Court’s decision to uphold the program on a classwide basis,” said Rob Malionek, who argued the cross-motions for summary judgment. “Our class, made up of thousands of abused, abandoned, or neglected young immigrants, once again has a path to citizenship.”

The lawsuit challenged USCIS’s new position that New York State Family Courts are not “juvenile courts” for young people aged 18 to up to 21, and are therefore not authorized to issue the orders that must support SIJS applications. This policy change ran counter to a decade of practice. Plaintiffs successfully argued that the agency’s new policy violates the federal Administrative Procedures Act because it contradicts the statute that created SIJS and misinterprets New York law.

In addition to Rob Malionek, the Latham team included partner Nick McQuaid, counsel Virginia Tent, paralegal Natalie Sagara, and associates Alexander DeLisi, Benjamin Dozier, Caitlin Feeney, Kevin Wu, Matthew Salerno, Joe D’Amato, Jarred Muller, and Victoria McGrath.

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