This week, the Maryland House of Representatives will have a hearing on HB 315, or the Guardianship Bill, which is set to lengthen the amount of time immigrant children can be in custody.
I’m honored to share a guest post on this bill from Adonia Simpson, Managing Attorney for Esperanza Center’s Immigration Legal Services (ILS). ILS provides low cost and pro bono representation to Marylanders seeking assistance with family and humanitarian immigration matters. In the last year, ILS increased its representation of unaccompanied minors, specifically seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status for many of these youths.
Currently in many states, including Maryland, a disparity exists between federal and state laws. Federal immigration law defines a child as being an unmarried individual under 21 years of age. Some of these children are eligible for a special immigration status if a finding by a state court is made that they have been abused, abandoned or neglected by one or both parents, and it is not in their best interest to be returned to their home country.
Unfortunately, in Maryland, Circuit Courts only have jurisdiction over children in custody and guardianship until they turn 18. This last year approximately 25,000 children fled their homes due to poverty, civil strife, abuse and neglect. 70,000 are expected to flee in 2014. Many of these children have valid forms of relief, but for the fact that they have “aged out” in the eyes of the state courts.
Recently arrived immigrant children face many obstacles, and the largest one is finding low cost or pro bono legal representation to assist them with obtaining this Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. These children are reunited with family members, attend school and navigate the cultural differences here in the United States. Unfortunately, many children miss the state court jurisdiction age limits by a month or less and are left with little or no relief before the immigration court and face deportation to the same countries in which they have fled.
The hearing for HB 315 will be on February 6th. If you are a Maryland resident, take action by calling on your representative to protect children fleeing violence. Maryland representatives can be reached through calling the Maryland General Assembly switchboard at 301-858-3000.