Back to School: What immigrant children, their families, and guidance counselors need to know.

Back to school

Summer is coming to an end, and stores are crowded with children and their parents rushing to check off each item on their back to school lists. Teachers are buying essential items and preparing their classrooms while school administrators are awaiting the arrivals of returning and new students.

For immigrant children, there are special issues regarding seeking legal status that adults in their lives should address. This knowledge and preparation should be on everyone’s back to school check list, too.

There are three main types of relief children may be eligible for:

1. Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)

This form of relief is available to children who have faced abuse, abandonment, or neglect by one or both parents in their home country. SIJS is a great option because it is a quick mechanism to obtain a green card (lawful permanent resident status) for a child who meets the eligibility criteria. There is a three step process involving the State Family or Probate Court, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and Immigration Court. Although SIJS cases require the establishment of abuse, abandonment, and/or neglect by at least one parent, it is important to remember that the child can be living with their other parent and qualify for this type of petition.

Is SIJS right for my student?

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status will permit the student to return to their home country, unlike asylum petitions which will prohibit home country visits. A downside to the SIJS application is that the child can never apply for legal status for either of their parents, even if the child is claiming mistreatment by only one parent.

Even though the child has until they reach the age of 21 to apply for SIJS, the child almost always (with some exceptions) must obtain the special findings before their 18th birthday.

Read more about it here.

2. Unaccompanied Alien Child (UAC Asylum)

In the past few years, there has been a surge of children entering the United States without inspection and without a parent accompanying them. The journey these children make is incredibly dangerous. As a result, U.S. immigration policy has changed to address and accommodate this growing crisis by creating a special asylum process for these children, referred to as “unaccompanied alien children” (“UAC”).

UAC asylum cases allow the child to have their asylum case decided first by an asylum officer who interviews them to determine if they are eligible for asylum rather than having their case immediately heard in Immigration Court. These cases are also handled more quickly than accompanied child asylum applications with UAC cases scheduled in a matter of weeks versus an asylum trial for an accompanied child having trials scheduled 2-5 years in the future.

Is Unaccompanied Alien Child Asylum right for my student?

The benefit here is that the child presents their case to an immigration officer in a more relaxed environment than a courtroom. Unlike accompanied children who have been apprehended by immigration, who only have one chance to present their asylum case before an immigration judge, unaccompanied children have a second opportunity to present their case to the immigration judge if they are denied asylum following the interview with the asylum officer. While many of these children would qualify for SIJS, UAC asylum, if granted, allows a child to apply on behalf of one or both parents for legal status in the future. A disadvantage to seeking UAC Asylum is that the student would not be able to return to their home country.

It is key to note that an UAC Asylum application must be filed within one year of entering the United States.

To learn more, click here.

3. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

DACA is available for some children who are in the United States without lawful status. DACA provides a temporary legal status and the ability to obtain work authorization for a minimum of two years. DACA status can be renewed at the end of the initial 2-year period.

To be eligible for DACA, the applicant must meet seven (7) eligibility requirements:

Must have been under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;

Came to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday;

Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;

Must have been physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;

Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;

Is currently in school, has graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, has obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and

Has not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor,or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

PLEASE NOTE: An expanded version of the DACA program was announced by President Obama in November 2014; however, there is currently an injunction placing the expansion on hold. If the courts lift the injunction, the expanded version of this program will begin.

To learn more about DACA, please click here.

Guidance Counselors

Guidance counselors should screen all currently enrolled students and new registrants for immigration issues. If a guidance counselor identifies that a student is undocumented, it is important to connect with the family and provide them with information about all options potentially available to their student. Attorney Shapiro is offering free workshops and brief consultations with any students who guidance counselors identify as needing immigration assistance.

It is urgent that once a student in need is identified that the counselor connects them with an attorney in order to ensure the student does not miss key filing deadlines.


If your child is undocumented, even if the child came to the United States at a very young age, your child is at-risk for deportation or to lose the ability to seek lawful immigration status. It is important to take advantage of opportunities available to them as minors and, where applicable, to ensure filing paperwork within the necessary time frames.

Please contact Attorney Shapiro to discuss options available to your student at this time. Send an email or call (781) 461-0100.

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