Q: What is Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)?
A: Special Immigrant Juvenile Status is a special immigration status for unmarried minors who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents. You can qualify for SIJS only if a judge decides that you have been abused, neglected, or abandoned and that you are eligible for long-term foster care. If you qualify, (1) the judge must put you in the custody of a state agency, which in NC would probably be the department of social services (DSS), and (2) the judge must also decide that it is in your best interest not to return to your home country. A minor who gets a SIJS will be treated almost the same as a lawful permanent resident (an immigrant with a “green card”). He/she will be allowed to work in the U.S. and be able to become a citizen after five years. SIJS is only for minors. In NC, and immigrant 18 years or older cannot obtain a SIJS. If you think you are eligible for SIJS, talk to an immigration lawyer as soon as possible. The process for getting this status can take a long time, and if you turn 18 before the process is complete, you will no longer be eligible for SIJS.
Q: What is a U Visa?
A: A Visa gives a non-citizen legal permission to be in the U.S. The U Visa is a special kind of visa that is only available to crime victims who have suffered serious abuse. You could be eligible for a U Visa if you have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of rape, domestic violence, involuntary servitude, sex trafficking (being brought to the U.S. from your home country by someone who forces you to perform sex acts for money), or a number of other crimes. You do not have to be under age 18 to obtain a U Visa. If you think you are eligible for a U Visa, talk to an immigration lawyer.
Q: Where can I find a lawyer to help with SIJS or a U Visa?
A: If you have a social worker or a guardian ad litem (someone the court appointed to help you in a juvenile court case), that person may be able to help you find a lawyer. You may also contact the North Carolina Justice Center’s Immigration Legal Assistance Program at 1-888-251-2776 (they speak both English and Spanish). Information about this program is also available on the internet at http://www.ncjustice.org/work/index.php (click on Immigrant Issues). If the Justice Center is unable to help you, they may be able to refer you to another agency or lawyer for help.