Manatt investigations and white collar defense partner Sirena Castillo was recognized with a 2020 California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY) Award by Daily Journal for her successful work representing a class of more than 2,000 vulnerable juvenile immigrants that had been unlawfully denied applications for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) by the federal government. According to Castillo, her involvement with the case began after working on a habeas petition on behalf of her client whose SIJS application had been delayed. “We thought delay was the issue, but when we got the government's denial letter it contained reasons I'd never seen before,” she said. The government’s response to her petition ballooned the underlying issue into a much bigger matter, which Castillo tackled alongside Manatt colleagues Adrianne Marshack and Kathleen Wise, and pro bono co-counsel Public Counsel and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Over the course of the next year, Castillo and her team successfully secured an injunction that prevented the federal 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 in October 2018. The team finally secured a settlement with the government in December 2019. Under the terms of the settlement, those class members who had previously had their SIJS petitions denied or received a notice of intent to deny, would quickly have their petitions readjudicated, while those who had not yet received word on their petitions would no longer be subject to the unlawful policy. The settlement also included provisions addressing class members in removal proceedings and class members who had other immigration petitions denied because their SIJ petition was not granted.
Castillo and her team also successfully obtained a contempt order against the federal government after learning that it had violated the October 2018 injunction and wrongly deported five class members. Under the contempt order, the government is required to return the deportees to the United States or face daily monetary sanctions until it has done. This process has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and remains ongoing.