The Family Law Committee, in line with its continuing quest to educate members of the Bar, held a seminar on issues involving “Unaccompanied Minor Children” on November 18th at the courthouse.
First, some background: According to the Pew Research Center, five states along the east coast have seen a rise in undocumented immigration over the past year- Maryland is one of those states, Between 2009 and 2012, Maryland saw a 25% increase in undocumented immigration to the state. Nationally, 73% of undocumented minors are arriving from Central America at present. In 2009, 82% arrived from Mexico. As of 2012, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world with 90 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. El Salvador has the 4th highest murder rate in the world. Consequently, the children that are fleeing these countries more often than not hail from violent, gang-ridden communities. These children often present as fearful and emotionally and/or physically scarred individuals.
Van T. Doan, an immigration and family law attorney, Patricia Chiriboga-Roby, an attorney with the World Relief Baltimore Immigration Clinic, Judge Kathleen Cox and Master Jacquie Dawson formed the panel of experts advising the attendees of the legal and humanitarian crisis, the law on point and the manner in which the Circuit Court for Baltimore County is handling these matters.
In order to obtain “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status” an attorney first must establish jurisdiction of a local juvenile court and obtain a court order for custody or guardianship over the child. As part of the proceedings, the attorney must also seek a finding by the Circuit Court of “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status” by alleging, most commonly, that: (1) the child is under the age of 21; (2) is unmarried; (3) has been declared dependent in court; (4) that the child has been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both of the parents before the age of 18; and (5) that it is not in the child’s best interests to be returned to his/her country. Once there is a finding of SIJS, an application for permanent residence can be sought in federal court on behalf of the child.
Counsel should be aware that the Court may ask for passports, birth certificates, driver’s licenses, leases, school records, and the like in additional to testimony of Petitioners. Frequently, children as young as five may be brought back to speak with the trier of fact in chambers.
There is a desperate need for attorneys to represent unaccompanied minors (on a pro bono or low bono basis) in both the underlying custody/SIJS matter and the subsequent immigration proceedings. If you can help, please contact Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) at 443-990-1645.