In a full-fledged opinion by Justice Chambers, the Second Department reversed Family Court and awarded mother guardianship of her children so the undocumented children could pursue special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) to become lawful residents of the United States. In El Salvador the children had been threatened with death if they did not join a local gang, and the children’s grandmother had been killed by the gang:
The Immigration and Nationality Act, which established SIJS (see 8 USC § 1101[a][J]; Pub L 101-649, § 153, 104 US Stat 4978 [101st Cong, 2d Sess, Nov 29, 1990]), employs “a unique hybrid procedure that directs the collaboration of state and federal systems” … . The child, or someone acting on his or her behalf, must first petition a state juvenile court to issue an order making special findings of fact that the child is dependent upon a juvenile court or legally committed to an individual appointed by a state or juvenile court. Further, a state juvenile court must find that reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to parental abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis, and that it is not in the child’s best interests to be returned to his or her home country … . Only once a state juvenile court has issued this factual predicate order may the child, or someone acting on his or her behalf, petition the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (hereinafter USCIS) for SIJS … . In addition, to be eligible for SIJS, the child must be unmarried and under 21 years of age (see 8 CFR 204.11[c], ). Ultimately, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security must consent to the grant of SIJS… . The Secretary’s consent ensures that the child is seeking SIJS for the purpose of obtaining relief from abuse, neglect, or abandonment, and not primarily for the purpose of obtaining lawful permanent residency status … . Since ultimately the Secretary must give consent, the Family Court “is not rendering an immigration determination” … .
In the case before us, there are sufficient allegations in the guardianship petitions and supporting papers to suggest that naming the mother as guardian of the subject children would be in their best interests … . * * * Naming the mother as guardian of the children may potentially enable the children to pursue legal status in the United States. If legal status is granted, the children may avoid being separated from their mother and instead keep their family intact and safe, away from the perils present in El Salvador … . In sum, assuming the truth of the allegations, we disagree with the Family Court’s conclusion that there is “no reason” to appoint the mother as guardian of the children. Matter of Marisol NH 2014 NY Slip Op 00664, 2nd Dept 2-5-14
The Second Department reached the same conclusion in another case decided the same day: Matter of Maura AR-R (Santos FR), 2014 NY Slip Op 00669, 2nd Dept 2-5-14