Following federal court orders in 2018, DACA renewal remains available, but foreign nationals cannot file first-time DACA applications. This situation is subject to change.
Children who are nationals of foreign countries may be able to seek special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) as an alternative to DACA, especially if they are ineligible for DACA. This status requires a state court order finding that the foreign national child was subject to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The court also must find that returning to the child’s home country is not in their best interest. These determinations must be made by a court in the child’s state, rather than an immigration court. The state court generally must issue its order before the foreign national turns 18, and then they must complete the application process before they turn 21.
You can file for SIJS at no cost, and applying for it does not involve acknowledging that you do not have legal status in the U.S. The foreign national child does not even need to prove that they have lived in the U.S. for a certain period. They do not need to show proof of education or enrollment in school. Perhaps most importantly, this status can open the door not only to work authorization but also to a green card and even citizenship. The benefits conferred by a green card include lawful permanent resident status, the right to travel freely, access to public benefits if needed, and the ability to bring certain family members to the U.S.
Complications of Pursuing SIJS
While it comes with significant advantages, SIJS may not be the right solution for every foreign national who may be eligible for it. The process is significantly more complicated than the DACA process, since it is based on legal proceedings in a state court. The criteria for eligibility also are more complicated and more open to subjective interpretation. Each state uses different standards for determining whether a child has been abused, neglected, or abandoned. You probably will need an attorney to handle this process and potentially the state court case related to it as well.
While an SIJS recipient can get a green card for a spouse or child, they cannot get a green card for either parent. This rule applies to both parents even if only one parent was responsible for the abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Also, the application will contain information about family members of the foreign national child. If they are undocumented, the information may form a basis for removal proceedings against the family members.
Choosing Between DACA and SIJS
A teenager who may qualify for SIJS may want to apply for SIJS first and then use DACA as an alternative if they cannot complete the SIJS application before they pass the age limit. If they have a close relationship to a spouse or child, but not to either parent, SIJS may be a better option because it is the only way to get a green card for the spouse or child. If they have a close relationship with the non-abusive parent, on the other hand, they may prefer DACA because it does not require them to disclose information about that parent’s immigration status. You cannot use DACA to sponsor a parent (or anyone else) for a green card, but you may be able to sponsor a parent if you get DACA status initially and then receive a green card through a different means.
You cannot get financial aid or government benefits through DACA, as you can through SIJS. Also, if you might be interested in serving in the U.S. armed forces, you can achieve this goal through SIJS but not DACA.