This web site is intended to serve as a comprehensive resource for advocates and stakeholders highlighting key articles, studies, and advocacy efforts, providing a searchable resource database for representatives of minors, and making available to advocates new court decisions and proposed regulatory changes or legislation regarding unaccompanied minors.


Download the manual here. This Center for Human Rights Manual covers information on

  • Basic immigrant law
  • Who can adjust immigrant status
  • Adoption
  • Rights of children subject to deportation, removal, or inadmissibility
  • Public benefits for immigrant children (i.e. CalWORKS, food stamps, etc)
  • How to avoid a removal order
  • Prosecutorial discretion
  • If the child's parent gets removed


In 2013, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a Parental Interests Directive to provide federal guidelines regarding immigration enforcement against parents and legal guardians. The Directive emphasizes that ICE should respect an immigrant parent's rights and responsibilities, and seeks to ensure that "immigration enforcement activities do not unnecessarily disrupt" parental rights.
For a resource summarizing the key provisions of the Directive and providing tips to those working within the dependency system on how to best ensure an immigrant parent can meaningfully participate in dependency proceedings go here.


One of the most vulnerable segments of society is undocumented, abused children removed from the home and placed in the care and custody of the State. In addition to the threat of arrest, detention, and deportation, undocumented minors are unable to obtain lawful employment and/or attend college. For that reason, the U.S. Congress created two separate provisions under federal law to allow immigrant children to obtain lawful permanent resident status or a "green card." Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a federal law that assists certain undocumented children in obtaining legal permanent residency. Persons under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court who are eligible for long term foster care due to drug abuse, abandonment or neglect may qualify for SIJS and based on that, apply for adjustment of status to a Lawful Permanent Resident. In California, non-parent child placement decisions are made in juvenile dependency and delinquency court and probate court. Typically SIJS is granted to children in juvenile dependency court who are placed in foster care. Children under the jurisdiction of the juvenile delinquency court may also be eligible for SIJS. Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a way for a dependent of juvenile court to become a permanent resident of the United States (i.e., get a "green card"). If the juvenile applies for this status and is successful, s/he may remain in the U.S., work legally, qualify for in-state tuition at college, and in five years apply for U.S. citizenship. However, if the application is denied, the child might be deported.

Who qualifies for SIJS?

In order to qualify for SIJS, a juvenile court in the U.S. must have declared the child a court dependent, or have legally committed the child to a state agency or department. The court must have found the child "eligible for long-term foster care" (which in this context means that parental reunification is not possible), and that it is not in the child's best interest to be returned to the home country. The child should have proceeded to long-term foster care, adoption, or guardianship and the court must have made its findings based on the abuse, neglect or abandonment of the child.

Who can complete the application?

The child, a caseworker, or an attorney can complete the application for SIJS, which will be submitted to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The child must complete INS forms, obtain a special medical exam, and provide fingerprints, a photograph, and proof of age. The application must include an order from a dependency court that the child is eligible for long-term foster care due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. There is a fee for the application process, but a fee waiver is available.
The INS will grant the applicant employment authorization as soon as the application is filed, and schedule a date for the SIJS interview. Generally, the INS will decide the case at the time of the SIJS interview.
NOTE: It is important to apply for SIJS as soon as possible while the child is a juvenile court dependent because the process may take from 6 to 18 months after submitting the application to get an SIJS interview. If the child is emancipated before the interview takes place, the current INS policy is to deny the case.

For more information, download the The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law's Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) Manual.


When a child who is not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian is apprehended by immigration authorities, the child is transferred to the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Federal law requires that ORR feed, shelter, and provide medical care for unaccompanied children until it is able to release them to safe settings with sponsors (usually family members), while they await immigration proceedings. This website provides state data of unaccompanied children released to sponsors. For more information, click here.


The National Immigrant Women's Advocacy Project (NIWAP) has prepared a report on best practices for judges, attorneys and advocates on how to secure the attendance, in court proceedings, of immigrants including minors who are being detained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) so that immigrants can participate in dependency court proceedings involving children or criminal court proceedings. For more information, click here.


This manual is prepared by David B. Thronson professor of Law at Michigan State University and produced via FOIA request of Carlos Holguin, General Counsel for Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law.
For the Consolidated Handbook of Adjudication Procedures, click here.
For the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 6, click here.


Unaccompanied children placed in immigration proceedings in the United States are likely to encounter a complex web of policies and practices, numerous government agencies—each acting in accordance with a different mission and objective—and a legal process that often takes years to resolve. This is a resource created by the Center on Immigration and Justice for practitioners, policy makers and researchers. For more information, click here.