The Double Abandonment of Immigrant Youth: How the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Program Harms Those It Was Designed to Protect

Sat, 6/3: 12:45 PM - 2:30 PM
Paper Session 
Caribe Hilton 
Room: Beach Wing – Flamingo B 


This study presents the first systematic empirical investigation of children seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) and SIJS-based lawful permanent residence, using original administrative records, including 153,374 SIJS applications filed between 2010 to 2021, and 35,651 adjustment of status applications filed between 2013 to 2021, based on approved SIJS. Created in 1990 to protect children, SIJS is the only immigration benefit created specifically for children, yet there has been little study nationally of how SIJS may protract and promote precarity in young people's lives. Applications for SIJS have steadily increased over the years and since 2016, some SIJS children have faced years-long limbo in the SIJS backlog, which is the wait time to apply for permanent residence due to congressionally mandated country-specific employment-based visa caps, undermining the humanitarian nature of the status and enacting legal violence on Latino/a youth from Mexico and Central America.

SIJS children's youthfulness, immigration status, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and other factors may mean SIJS applicants experience discrimination and are at greater risk of harm. Additionally, the implementation of SIJS law in practice may prolong children's precarity due to temporal delays, Congressionally-imposed visa limits, disparities in access to quality representation, political whims, and aggressive immigration enforcement during a crucial and formative period of these young people's lives. This paper theorizes the situation that many SIJS applicants find themselves in as a crisis of double abandonment. By double abandonment, we aim to make visible the often invisible precarity that SIJS applicants face both as marginalized youth, typically people of color, whose precarity is, in turn, exacerbated by the government's (mis)management of the SIJS program. Ultimately, we call for action to improve the SIJS program and build power for immigrant children. 


Rachel Davidson, End SIJS Backlog Coalition  - Contact Me
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