Court Finds Special Immigrant Juveniles Eligible for Work Authorization

Last Updated

March 22, 2021

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri held that children who have been granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, or SIJS, have been paroled for humanitarian purposes and therefore are eligible for work authorization as parolees. Godinez v. DHS, No. 20-008280-cv-w-GAF (W.D. Mo.). The court rejected the Department of Homeland Security’s argument that the plaintiffs were parolees only for purposes of adjusting status and not for purposes of eligibility for work authorization.

The court found that although INA § 245(h)(1) expressly states that children with SIJS are deemed paroled for purposes of adjustment, this does not preclude them from being deemed paroled for some other purpose. The court reasoned that Congress amended the statute to state that children with SIJS have been paroled out of a “desire to ensure the safeguards for abandoned, neglected, and abused children were not subverted, in the name of humanitarian and public interest relief.” As a result, the court found that in addition to being paroled for purposes of adjustment of status, children with SIJS are also paroled for humanitarian purposes and thus are eligible for work authorization pursuant to 8 CFR § 274a.12(c)(11). The helpful language in the decision may bolster arguments that SIJS parole protects beneficiaries from removal.

This is the first court ruling that extends work authorization to youth seeking permanent residence in the U.S. based on SIJS before the filing of a Form I-485, Application for Adjustment of Status. Traditionally, applicants were only eligible to file in conjunction with or after filing the Form I-485. Adjustment of status applicants are eligible for work authorization pursuant to 8 CFR § 274a.12(c)(9). Based on the court’s ruling, some practitioners have filed Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, concurrently with Form I-360, Petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. They have also filed the I-765 for clients with approved I-360 petitions.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has not issued a formal statement or guidance regarding the court’s ruling and the expanded eligibility for work authorization. It is unclear at this time whether USCIS will follow the court’s decision, hold I-765s filed on this basis in abeyance pending guidance, or deny I-765s for those outside the Western District of Missouri. DHS may also decide to file an appeal of this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.