Gomez, Lofgren, Espaillat Introduce Legislation to Protect Immigrant Youth from Abuse & Neglect

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Congressman Jimmy Gomez (CA-34) along with Reps. Zoe Lofgren (CA-18), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), and 29 additional Members of Congress introduced the Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act, legislation to fix the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) program for immigrant children who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected. Congress established the SIJS program in 1990 to protect these youth from additional harm, but in recent years, visa backlogs have prevented the program from keeping these children safe.

Despite being a humanitarian visa, the pathway to a green card for SIJS children runs through the employment-based immigration visa system, subjecting SIJS recipients to annual worldwide and country-specific quotas. This legislation would exempt SIJS children from annual employment-based visa caps, ending years-long case backlogs and allowing these children to move forward with their lives as lawful permanent residents of the United States.

“As a new father and the son of immigrants, I refuse to sit idly by as immigrant children and teens who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected are left vulnerable to homelessness, wage theft, trafficking, and deportation because of an administrative backlog,” said Rep. Gomez. “All young people deserve a safe and stable home, immigrant youth included. I 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 Rep. Lofgren, a senior member of the House Immigration Subcommittee and a former immigration lawyer. “Placing vulnerable immigrant youth in employment-based visa backlogs and subjecting them to arbitrary per-country caps makes no sense. I’m proud to again 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 and public policy makers, we have no more core responsibility and duty than to protect the most vulnerable among us,” said Rep. Espaillat. “We must protect our immigrant youth, who are disproportionately susceptible to economic and security concerns, including a lack of accessible childcare, targeted crime, and increasing rates of poverty.  I am proud to join my colleagues, once again, to lead our efforts to expand safeguards for nearly 81,000 vulnerable immigrant youth to ensure they can live the American dream and have the opportunity to achieve all that our country has to offer.”

The bill text can be found here.

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate last week.

“For decades, vulnerable immigrant children who have experienced violence and abuse have been able to get permanent resident status to avoid further harm, but visa backlogs are keeping too many in limbo,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “My legislation will help these immigrant youth facing extreme circumstances to become legal residents so they can have the protection and opportunities they deserve.”

While the Biden Administration has taken welcome steps to protect immigrant children from deportation, SIJS recipients must still wait years for a visa to become available. Currently, more than 44,000 children with SIJS are in limbo, waiting to receive a green card.

The legislation is endorsed by more than 100 advocacy and legal organizations, including the American Bar Association, American Immigration Council, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Center for Law and Social Policy, Church World Service, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Immigration Center for Women and Children, End SIJS Backlog Coalition, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), National Immigrant Justice Center, Nevada Immigrant Coalition, Refugees International, Tahirih Justice Center, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, United We Dream, and The Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights.

“It is unconscionable and completely avoidable that children who have already been granted SIJS are trapped in a years-long limbo that endangers their lives, all because SIJS was miscategorized in the visa system. It makes no sense for these children to be competing for visas with immigrants seeking employment-based status.” said Rachel Davidson, Director of the End SIJS Backlog Coalition. “The Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act would ensure that thousands of SIJS youth are protected from deportation and can achieve the permanency in the United States that Congress intended. The End SIJS Backlog Coalition commends Representatives Jimmy Gomez, Zoe Lofgren, Adriano Espaillat, and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto for introducing this important bill. We will continue to work tirelessly alongside them to end the harmful backlog imposed on SIJS youth.” 


“Children who were abused, abandoned, or neglected need safety and security but instead face a legal limbo that furthers their suffering and impedes their ability to fully integrate into their communities. The Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act provides these young people the stability to chart a new more hopeful future in the United States,” said Wendy Young, KIND’s President.



Stay Connected

Use the form below to sign up for my newsletter and get the latest news and updates directly to your inbox.