New Va Laws Help Immigrant Children Seek Safety

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For Immediate Release

Contact:            Amy Woolard, (434) 529-1846, amy@justice4all.org

                        Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, (703) 720-5605, simon@justice4all.org

NEW VIRGINIA LAWS HELP IMMIGRANT CHILDREN SEEK PROTECTION FROM ABUSE, NEGLECT, AND ABANDONMENT

RICHMOND: On Friday, February 22, the Virginia General Assembly passed SB 1758 and HB 2679, identical bills that will aid immigrant children fleeing abuse, neglect, and abandonment in their home countries in seeking protection from deportation in Virginia.

Across the country, many immigrant children and DREAMers facing deportation proceedings seek a form of immigration relief called “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status” (SIJS). SIJS is unique in that it requires a state court to issue a certain type of order before the child may even attempt to seek SIJS relief from the federal government. In a 2017 case called Canales v. Torres-Orellana, brought by the Legal Aid Justice Center, the Virginia Court of Appeals sharply restricted state judges’ ability to issue these orders, leaving hundreds of Virginia immigrant children without protection. Virginia became one of the most difficult states in the nation to obtain SIJS.

During this year’s General Assembly session, Legal Aid Justice Center worked closely with legislators and the Governor’s office to pass these bills, which would overturn the Canales case and restore Virginia immigrant children’s ability to apply for SIJS. The bills also address the needs of other children before the juvenile courts, easing the way for any Virginia child to seek a state court’s assistance in proving eligibility for other benefits such as adoption assistance, TANF assistance, and timely public school enrollment.

SB 1758 was introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon). HB 2679 was introduced by Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church). The bills initially took different approaches to fixing this issue, and each passed their respective chambers with an overwhelming bipartisan majority of votes. The bills were then placed into committees of conference in an attempt to gain consensus, and identical bills emerged that combined the approach of both; they garnered unanimous support in the House, and only two dissenting votes in the Senate. The bills now go to Governor Northam’s desk for his signature; once signed, they will take effect on July 1 of this year. The conference report with bill text is available at: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?191+ful+SB1758S1+pdf

“Immigrant children in Virginia can breathe a little more easily now,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program. “Our agency has represented over 150 children fleeing truly horrific situations of abuse or neglect in their home countries. Fairness dictates that they be afforded the same rights as immigrant children in any other state. Now these new DREAMers will be able to seek protection and apply to remain in the United States with green cards.”

“This excellent result could not have come about without the leadership and hard work of Senator Surovell and Delegate Simon, and the support of Governor Northam’s administration,” said Amy Woolard, Legal Aid Justice Center Attorney and Policy Coordinator. “Virginia’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts should exist to protect the best interests of all children in the Commonwealth, and these bills will now make clear that is true for immigrant children seeking safety through SIJS, as well.”

“The United States has a long history of protecting abused, neglected, and abandoned children, and the Commonwealth will continue to play its part,” said Sen. Surovell. “These bills will clarify and restore Virginia courts’ authority to make factual findings necessary to protect children fleeing abuse, neglect, and abandonment from abroad, and I appreciate the broad bipartisan support of legislators who saw this as consistent with Virginia’s longstanding values.”

“I’m so pleased we were able to pass this important legislation to give our courts the authority they need to be able help some of the most vulnerable and powerless people in our Commonwealth,” said Del. Simon. “It is so important that we not let victims of abuse, neglect, and often abandonment fall through the cracks because of a technical deficiency in our code. Those are the common sense problems we are elected to come down here and fix.”

A downloadable PDF of this statement may be accessed here.

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Legal Aid Justice Center is a statewide Virginia nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the voices of low-income communities and root out the inequities that keep people in poverty. We provide legal support to immigrant communities facing legal crises and use advocacy and impact litigation to fight back against ICE enforcement and detention abuses. More information is available at http://www.justice4all.org/.