Help abused, neglected, and abandoned Special Immigrant Juveniles get work permits.

A legal and advocacy campaign to improve the USCIS application process and ensure the prompt issuance of work permits to Special Immigrant Juveniles.


What is SIJ?

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).


What is the SIJ Work Permit campaign all about?

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.

Add your name to the letter  urging President Biden to give abused, neglected, and abandoned immigrant youth work permits

In the linked letter mailed to the Biden administration on March 7, 2022 and signed by approximately 400 people, we request that the administration review and revise the current USCIS policy of forcing thousands of abused, neglected, and abandoned immigrant youth to experience extreme hardships without work permits for many years due long processing times and delays.  We also advise the administration that several SIJ applicants and community-based programs have filed a class action case in federal court in Los Angeles (Casa Libre v. Mayorkas) seeking an injunction requiring USCIS to issue work permits to SIJ immigrants who file bona fide petitions. We urge the administration to promptly meet with the plaintiffs of this lawsuit and their legal representatives to begin to explore an operationally achievable, cost-effective, and humane settlement whereby young SIJ applicants are granted work permits soon after filing approvable SIJ applications.  Doing so would be consistent with Congress’s desire to protect these victims of trauma and relieve them of the extreme and unusual hardships they face trying to survive for years without work permits while their visa petitions are pending. 


To read the signed letter in its entirety, click the linked button here:

We are still collecting signatures and will resend the letter to the Biden administration on March 21, 2022 with additional supporters. Please show your support for these much needed changes to USCIS policies by adding your name to the following link: 


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Casa Libre v. Mayorkas

Filed March 7, 2022

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.

To read the filed complaint in its entirety, click the linked button here:

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

March 7, 2022 SIJ / Work Permit Press Conference

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: Councilmember Kevin de León

  6. Remarks: San Francisco Supervisor Myrna Melgar 

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


Undocumented immigrants graduating from high school have no permanent legal status and are forced to work in underground exploitable jobs.

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Tommy Esquivel said goodbye to his science teacher, Alycia Escobedo, at Hollywood High School in Los Angeles. He has had to pass up career-building opportunities because of his undocumented status. (Credit: Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times)

“After doing all this work, I don’t know where it’s going to lead me,” said Mr. Esquivel, who immigrated from Guatemala when he was 9. (Credit: Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times)