Most in Need But Least Served: Legal and Practical Barriers to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status for Federally Detained Minors


  • Jennifer Baum,

  • Alison Kamhi,

  • C. Mario Russell



Abused, neglected, and abandoned immigrant youth face numerous obstacles to physical safety, including potential repatriation (deportation) to abusive caretakers from whom they fled. In recognition of the special needs of abused children, Congress enacted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) to provide a previously unavailable child welfare defense to deportation. The remedy is contingent upon a State court declaration that the youth is, in fact, in need of protection. However, unlike their counterparts in foster care or guardianships, youth detained by the federal government face numerous practical and legal roadblocks to accessing the necessary State court declarations. This article identifies several gaps in State laws which impede detained youths' access to State court declarations, and proposes several remedies which would enable the States to carry out Congress' intent that detained youth have access to SIJS, regardless of detention status.