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Peter Schey and casa Libre students graduation

SIJ Work Permits

A legal and advocacy campaign to help abused, neglected, and abandoned Special Immigrant Juveniles get work permits.

What is a Special Immigrant Juvenile?

The Immigration Act of 1990 created a humanitarian immigrant classification known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJ). These immigrant youth have experienced abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment by their parent(s) in their home countries, and many entered the US as unaccompanied minors seeking safety and stability. Through this Act, Congress granted these children and youth a path to legalization of status (get a green card).

March 15, 2022 Spectrum News 1 Interview - Attorney Peter Schey and SIJ applicant Gabriel Flores


Campaign Statement

Current USCIS policy does not permit SIJ applicants to apply for work permits until both their
SIJ applications are fully approved (which can take a year or more), and they are at the front of
the quota line and can apply for permanent resident status, which can easily take several more
years. Only then does USCIS allow SIJ applicants to apply for work permits. This policy causes
young immigrant SIJ applicants to suffer extreme hardships, often including homelessness,
hunger, the inability to continue their education, and extreme exploitation should they find
underground work with employers uniformly violating federal “employer sanctions” and labor
laws. Without employment authorization it is also often difficult, if not impossible, to procure a
driver’s license or state ID card, a social security number, in-state tuition at public colleges, and
scholarships and financial aid for continuing education. Our goal is the change these policies so that SIJ applicants are granted work permits soon after filing approvable SIJ applications rather than waiting years for USCIS to allow them to work legally.

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Show your support for immigrant workers

Casa Libre v. Mayorkas

Immigrant in need

As it currently stands, immigrant juveniles who have been abused, neglected,

abandoned may apply for SIJ status. It often takes USCIS a year or longer to

approve SIJ petitions even though a federal statute says this must be done in

180 days. In addition, even if a juvenile files a SIJ petition that is approvable

(and the vast majority of such petitions are eventually approved), USCIS will not

allow SIJ applicants to file applications for work permits until (1) their SIJ

applications are finally approved, which may take a year or more, AND (2) they

have reached the front of the visa quota line allowing them to file applications

for adjustment of status, which may take another four or five years. Only then will

DHS/USCIS permit SIJ visa recipients to file applications for work permits. So SIJ

applicants around 16 to 21 years old who need to work to survive (especially if they

have no family members here in the US) are forced to work in highly exploitative

jobs, their employers universally are in violation of federal employer sanctions

laws, they are paid cash and work in unsafe conditions, they are afraid to report

labor law and wage and hour law violations or crimes, and they often go hungry

and without stable housing thanks to the DHS/USCIS policy of refusing to provide

them with work permits. Unlike with SIJ visa applicants, USCIS allows many other

categories of applicants to apply for employment authorization even before their

visa petitions are approved and long before they may apply for adjustment of status,

including U visa applicants, T visa applicants, and others.

We believe (1) the discriminatory practice against young SIJ applicants is irrational and violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment, and (2) the long delays in approving SIJ petitions violates federal law which clearly states SIJ applications must be decided in 180 days.​

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SIJ Work Permit Press Conference

March 7, 2022

Emcee: Genevieve Agustin, CARECEN

Lead counsel: Peter Schey, CHRCL

Guests: Kevin de Leon, Los Angeles City Council; Myrna Melgar, San Francisco Supervisors Office

  1. Welcome and introductory remarks: Genevieve Augustin, CARECEN

  2. Purpose: Claudia Quintana, Legal Services. for Children

  3. Attorney remarks: Peter Schey, lead counsel, CHRCL; Maritza Agundez, CHIRLA

  4. Testimony from a SIJ juvenile plaintiff: Rene Gabriel Flores Merino

  5. Remarks: Council member Kevin de León

  6. Remarks: San Francisco Supervisor Myrna Melgar 

  7. Opening for Q&A: Genevieve Agustin, CARECEN

Work Permit Conferene

February 2023 Case Update

Casa Libre v. Mayorkas, Case No. 2:22-cv-01510-ODW-JPR

This class-action lawsuit seeks to force USCIS to adjudicate visa petitions for abused, neglected, and abandoned youth within the 180-day timeline Congress imposed. Congress created the law requiring fast adjudication to ensure that young immigrants who likely have no family support are able to get work authorization promptly, but USCIS continues to break this law with long delays. 


On February 16, 2023, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Class Certification. The proposed class is: All Special Immigrant Juvenile petitioners whose petitions have been or in the future are adjudicated in longer than 180 days. Plaintiffs have taken the first steps towards settlement discussions with USCIS.

Partners and Support

SIJ Work Permits is a project by the Center For Human Rights and Constitutional Law, in collaboration with Casa Libre, El Rescate, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), Salvadoran American Leadership & Educational Fund (SALEF), Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) DC & LA, La Raza Centro Legal, Inc., Legal Services for Children, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)

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LA RAZA Centro Legal
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El Rescate
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