N.J. Supreme Court Ruling Helps Immigrant Children Avoid Deportation Back to Homes Where They Have No Fit Caretaker

TRENTON, N.J.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–In a unanimous opinion by Judge Cuff, the New Jersey Supreme Court today
issued a decision that will help immigrant children who have been
abused, abandoned, or neglected by their parents avoid deportation back
to their home country. In the case, H.S.P. v. J.K. http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/supreme/A114A117HSPvJK.pdf,
the Court reversed an earlier decision by the Appellate Division, which
had purported to give a limiting interpretation of the federal law
governing Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (“SIJS”). The SIJS statute
is designed to protect children from deportation back to unfit parents
or homes where they lack any caretaker. In 2013, the federal Department
of Homeland Security approved approximately 3,400 SIJS petitions

The Supreme Court made clear that it is not the role of the state courts
to interpret federal immigration statutes or to make decisions about
whether a child qualifies for SIJS or any other form of immigration
relief. Instead, state courts are to make complete factual findings
about whether a child has been abused, neglected, or abandoned by each
of the child’s parents and whether it would be in the child’s best
interest to return to his or her country of origin. Such findings are
within the core competence of our child welfare courts, and are to be
based, the Supreme Court emphasized, on state law standards and not on
the law of the child’s country of origin. Based on the state court’s
factual findings, federal immigration officials will decide whether the
child qualifies for SIJS.

Lowenstein Sandler appeared in the case before the Supreme Court on
behalf of three organizations that assist children who have suffered
maltreatment and face involuntary return to harmful conditions in their
home countries: the American Friends Service Committee, Kids In Need of
Defense (“KIND”), and the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.
The Court granted these organizations permission to submit a brief and
participate in argument as amici curiae.

“The Supreme Court ruling clarifies the distinct roles of state courts
and federal immigration officials,” said Matthew Boxer, the Lowenstein
Sandler partner who argued for the amici. “In doing so, the Court
created a roadmap for the fair and efficient operation of the two-step
process that requires an immigrant child to prove abuse, neglect, or
abandonment in state court and then to present the state court findings
to federal immigration officials as the basis upon which the child seeks
to remain in this country in safety,” he added.

“By eschewing a limiting interpretation of federal law, the New Jersey
Supreme Court not only protected the welfare of unaccompanied immigrant
children but also avoided unworkable and unfair geographic
contradictions in how these children are treated across the nation,”
added Wendy Young, President of KIND.

“Week after week, the American Friends Service Committee represents
children who fled their home countries to escape beatings, sexual abuse,
and other forms of family violence or who were left to forage for food
and find their own shelter because of a parent’s inability to care for
them,” said Amy Gottlieb, Associate Regional Director, Northeast Region,
American Friends Service Committee. “This decision will enable such
children to seek protection from deportation and an opportunity to build
a better life here.”

“This is a common sense ruling that enables U.S. officials to protect
children from return to an abusive parent or no parent at all,” added
Maria Woltjen of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.
“Children need and deserve protection from forced return to countries
where there is no fit parent to care for them.”


Lowenstein Sandler
Catherine Weiss or Matt Boxer
Friends Service Committee
Amy Gottlieb
Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights
Maria Woltjen