On October 30, 2019, a federal district judge preliminarily approved a settlement agreement between Public Counsel, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR), and the federal government that guarantees a class of abused, abandoned or neglected children in California will have access to a special form of immigration relief. This comes after more than a year of litigation around the federal government attempting to narrow California’s ability to facilitate Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) protections for children over the age of 18 by refusing to recognize the authority of some California juvenile courts, a change that was implemented without any notice or any public announcement. A final approval hearing is set for December 18, 2019.
Under the terms of the agreement, those class members who had previously had their SIJS petitions denied or received a notice of intent to deny, will quickly have their petitions readjudicated, while those who had not yet received word on their petitions will no longer be subject to the unlawful policy. The settlement also includes provisions addressing class members in removal proceedings and class members who had other immigration petitions denied because their SIJ petition was not granted.
This agreement follows an order issued last October where a federal district judge prevented the government from issuing new SIJS denials based on this policy while also stopping the government from deporting immigrant children who had already been denied such relief. This order—which district judges presiding over parallel challenges in New York, New Jersey and Washington cited in their respective orders against the federal government—was issued after the court found the government’s justifications in support of its policy change were “lacking” and some of its reasoning was “flawed,” that the plaintiffs raised “serious questions going to the merits” of the government’s case, and that the immigrant children subject to the preliminary injunction face irreparable harm without the injunction.
“This agreement successfully ends over a year of litigation on behalf of immigrant youth who had been refused equal access to the humanitarian relief that they are entitled to under the law,” said Sirena Castillo, partner with Manatt. “We are proud to partner with our pro bono colleagues from Public Counsel and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights to ensure the continued existence of legal protections for vulnerable immigrant children.”
The broader case challenged the federal government’s unlawful policy, which aimed to restrict the access of older children who have suffered parental abuse, abandonment or neglect to receive SIJS protections. Under the federal statute, a child must receive Special Immigrant Juvenile Findings from a state court before he or she is allowed to seek SIJS relief from the federal government. The plaintiffs argued and the judge agreed that the administration’s policy of refusing to recognize the state court’s Findings and thus denying the SIJS petitions of otherwise eligible children was in contravention of the federal statutes and regulations implementing SIJS.
The Manatt team working alongside Public Counsel and LCCR included litigation partners Sirena Castillo, Adrianne Marshack and Matt Kanny.
Read the full agreement here.