U.S. Representatives Gomez, Lofgren, and Espaillat Introduce the Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representatives Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) introduced the Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act, which would protect immigrant youth who are survivors of abuse, abandonment, and neglect from further harm – including homelessness, wage theft, trafficking, and deportation. Specifically, the legislation would exempt Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) beneficiaries from numerical visa limitations.  

“To leave abused immigrant youth in administrative limbo – making them vulnerable to homelessness, wage theft, trafficking, and deportation – is unconscionable,” said Congressman Jimmy Gomez. “All young people deserve a safe and stable home, immigrant youth included. Congress must step up and pass legislation to solve the visa backlog for special immigrant juveniles. I’m proud to introduce the Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act with Representatives Lofgren and Espaillat and urge my colleagues to join us to make good on our nation’s commitment to protect immigrant youth.” 

“Immigrant children who have suffered abuse or neglect deserve certainty and an opportunity to start their lives in the United States,” said Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. “Placing these vulnerable immigrant youth in employment-based visa backlogs and subjecting them to arbitrary per-country caps makes no sense. I’m proud to join Congressmen Gomez and Espaillat in introducing the Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act to ensure abused or abandoned youth can remain safely in the country they call home.” 

“As public servants, we each have a duty and responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us,” said Congressman Adriano Espaillat. “And this call to duty is especially true for immigrant youth, who stand at risk of a multitude of challenges while navigating our nation’s immigration system, ranging from deportation, foster care, trafficking, and homelessness to name a few. I’m proud to help lead this congressional effort with my colleagues to ensure protections for vulnerable immigrant youth so they too can have a chance at the American dream and an opportunity to achieve all that our country has to offer—as Congress intended.” 

“The legislation introduced by Representative Gomez addresses a technical issue that for years has had real world, sometimes devastating impacts on the lives of the children and youth served by Bet Tzedek. From forcing some into underground economies to preventing others from accessing resources that make higher education a possibility, it denied abused, abandoned, and neglected immigrant children the full protection and possibility embodied in the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status law. We are grateful for the leadership of Representatives Gomez, Lofgren, and Espaillat,” said Diego Cartagena, President & CEO, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, End the SIJS Backlog Coalition member organization. 

“It makes no sense that children for whom it has been found to be unsafe to return to their country of origin, due to parental abuse, neglect, or abandonment, must then wait years to gain lawful permanent resident status,” said Randi Mandelbaum, Director of the Child Advocacy Clinic at Rutgers Law School. “This leads to immense instability, the inability to go to college, and at times even homelessness. This bill will ensure that these youth are protected, which was the intent of Congress in creating the Special Immigrant Juvenile status.” 

“Visa backlogs for vulnerable children make no sense. We have more than 200 minor clients on the waitlist who are subject to detention and enforcement even though an SIJS petition has been approved for them,” said Bill Ong Hing, Director of the University of San Francisco Immigration Clinic. 

“The End SIJS Backlog Coalition is committed to ending the harmful backlog imposed on Special Immigrant Juveniles,” said Elizabeth Rieser-Murphy, a Coalition Steering Committee member and Legal Aid Society attorney. “The Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act will ensure that SIJS youth are protected from deportation and can achieve permanency in the United States. We commend Representatives Jimmy Gomez, Zoe Lofgren, and Adriano Espaillat for introducing this important bill.”

“By eliminating the needless cap on Special Immigrant Juvenile visas, the Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act would bring security and stability to abused, abandoned, and neglected youth across the nation who too often languish in legal limbo,” said Jen Podkul, KIND Vice President for Policy and Advocacy. “We applaud Representatives Gomez, Espaillat, and Lofgren for championing this vital measure.”

Congress established SIJS to provide permanent humanitarian protection in the United States to immigrant children under the age of 21 found by state courts to have survived parental abuse, abandonment, neglect, or similar circumstances. Youth with an approved SIJS petition can seek Lawful Permanent Residence and later pursue U.S. citizenship. However, the Immigration and Nationality Act places SIJS in an employment-based visa category which subjects SIJS youth to worldwide and per-country annual visa caps, resulting in years-long backlogs. As of April 2021, more than 44,000 young people from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico remained in the backlog. 

The legislation is endorsed by The Door’s Legal Services Center, End SIJS Backlog Coalition, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, The Legal Aid Society, Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN), Centro Legal de la Raza, Immigration Resource Center of San Gabriel Valley, New York Legal Assistance Group, Central American Minors Work Group, New Jersey Consortium for Immigrant Children, Santa Barbara County Immigrant Legal Defense Center, Arkansas Immigrant Defense, Immigrant Legal Defense, Refugee Children's Center, Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Children's Law Center of MA, Student Clinic for Immigrant Justice (SCIJ), Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, Mid-South Immigration Advocates, Neighbors Link Community Law Practice, Lawyers For Children, World Relief Immigration Programs, Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, Project Lifeline, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, Tulane’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, Public Counsel, and the University of San Francisco Immigration & Deportation Defense Clinic.

Full text of the legislation can be found HERE

In April, Gomez led a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security requesting a prohibition on the use of appropriated funds for the apprehension, detention, and deportation of children with a pending or approved SIJS petition, or with a pending state court action seeking findings consistent with the statute. 

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