A Federal Class Action Has Altered the USCIS’s Deadline for Adjudicating SIJ Petitions

On July 31, a federal court in California issued a ruling in an immigration class action lawsuit. That ruling has created nationwide impacts, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services authoring an update to its USCIS Policy Manual. That update, which will align with the court’s July 31 ruling, deals with special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) status, the 180-day timeframe for adjudicating an SIJ petition, and the provisions within the Department of Homeland Security’s regulations regarding tolling of that 180-day deadline. This new development is potentially significant in many ways, one of which is to remind anyone with questions about SIJ status to seek out answers from a knowledgeable and fully up-to-date Maryland immigration lawyer.

SIJ status is available to certain immigrants who have been the subject of state juvenile court proceedings regarding abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The way to initiate a request for SIJ status is to file a Form 360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.

An immigrant can obtain SIJ status if he/she (1) “has been declared dependent on a juvenile court or legally committed to the custody of an individual or entity” and (2) cannot viably reunify with one or both parents “due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment.” Additionally, (3) an administrative or judicial proceeding must have deemed “that it would not be in the juvenile immigrant’s best interest to be returned to the juvenile immigrant’s or parent’s previous country of nationality or country of last habitual residence,” and (4) the DHS “consents to the grant of special immigrant juvenile status.”

If the officer reviewing your Form 360 believes he/she needs more information before issuing a decision, the officer will issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) or a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID), which means that the officer does not have the evidence necessary to grant your petition, but will allow you to submit more proof before reaching a final outcome.

Generally, the government has 180 days to render a decision. In early 2022, the USCIS created a new federal regulation that said that an RFE tolled the 180-day clock, restarting the countdown as of the date that the government received the evidence it requested.

Later last year, a class of SIJ applicants sued. In July of this year, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California sided with the applicants. The court noted that the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, signed into law in 2008, requires that all “applications for [SIJ] status . . . shall be adjudicated . . . not later than 180 days after the date on which the application is filed.” Given that unequivocal language in the 2008 act, the tolling provision within the new regulation was not “in accordance with” the statute’s requirements, according to the court.

Three months later, the USCIS updated its manual to state expressly that “an SIJ petition is not restarted or suspended if USCIS requests initial or additional evidence.”

This outcome is an important success for applicants, helping to ensure that their applications will be reviewed and adjudicated in a reasonably timely process and that those entitled to SIJ status can get the green cards they need as swiftly as possible.

Pursuing an SIJ petition is often an intricate and complicated process. To provide yourself with the best chance of success, get in touch with the knowledgeable Maryland green card attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. Our experienced team is here to help you through the process every step of the way, providing representation tailored to give you the best possible chances of success. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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