PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Hitting the United States with a federal class action, four mothers fleeing violence in Central America say the new administration’s rush to deport their children violates a longstanding settlement.
The children in question all successfully petitioned the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services last year, in the waning days of the Obama administration, for SIJ status.
Short for special immigrant juvenile, SIJ status was created in 1990 by Congress for foreign-born children who meet certain criteria, such having experienced abuse, neglect or abandonment. The mothers say it allows at-risk minors under the age of 21 “to remain in the United States legally and permanently” while they apply for a green card.
Before they obtained SIJ status, according to their April 17 complaint in Philadelphia, each of the children entered the United States with their mothers in 2015. They were apprehended at the border in Texas but have spent the bulk of their detention at the Berks County Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania.
Citing a 2010 federal settlement in the California case Perez-Olano v. Holder, the children all moved rescind and reopen their removal proceedings.
They received rejection letters this past February. In each case, according to the complaint, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement took the position that Perez-Olano relief “contemplated only removal proceedings, as opposed to the expedited removal proceedings at issue.”
Attorneys for the class, which is led by mom Wendy Amparo Osorio-Martinez, say the rationale is a farce.
“In defiance of common sense, clear congressional intent, applicable case law, and even a mere scintilla of human decency,” the complaint says, “defendants, without justification and or authorization, continue to illegally and indefinitely detain SIJ children up to and until the point at which defendants can ship the children back ‘home’ — places defendants previously determined would not be in the children’s best interest to be returned to.”
Saying their clients need immediate relief from “these abhorrent, illegal practices,” the children are seeking an emergency temporary restraining order.
Two of the children, ages 3 and 4, are from Honduras. The other two, ages 7 and 16, are from El Savador. They say there are thousands in similar predicaments.
The children were among 15,101 applications for SIJ status that Citizenship and Immigration Services approved last year. Another 594 applications were denied, terminated, or withdrawn.
“At last count, 8,674 applications were still awaiting a decision,” the complaint says, noting that there were 5,377 applications for SIJ status in the first quarter of 2017. Of these, 4,436 were approved and 193 were denied, terminated or withdrawn.
The class is represented by Michael Edelman at Pepper Hamilton. Neither Edelman, nor representatives from ICE and Homeland Security, have returned a request for comment.