The SIJS Project began as a pilot project of the New Sanctuary Coalition, responding to the increase demand for young people eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). After a successful two years, we are now housed under the community youth services organization South Bronx United where we can cater to the unique needs of youth including academic guidance and social activities.
SIJS is a status that is an almost certain path to a green card for those who are eligible (learn more).
We center the young people applying for SIJS by pairing non-lawyer volunteers with young people to embark on this lengthy, complex process towards a green card. On a practical level this is more efficient - the volunteers help coordinate paperwork and meetings, get stories, and ensure the young people are meeting the many deadlines necessary before obtaining this time-limited status. But for many young people who do not have a trusted adult in their life, they understandably prioritize more pressing issues in their life (housing, employment, school) which could result in missing out on SIJS forever. Our volunteers help the young person understand the importance of SIJS, and problem-solve these other areas of their lives so that they can complete SIJS and be on a better path towards life in New York. Additionally, many young people have been disenfranchised by institutions and can be distrustful of lawyers. We have had at least one young person that we referred to a lawyer who never showed up for any appointments, and ultimately we ended up working with and continue to have a relationship with today.
Integrated with what we do is how we do it. We strive to live our values in every interaction we have - with each other, with the young people, with our staff, funders, friends, and partners. One crucial value we have is that for many, the immigration process is an important step towards freedom but due to White supremacist structures, it has been created to elevate those in power. We believe that it is empowering for someone to be able to own and lead their own process, rather than hand it over to lawyers. Our name "the SIJS Project" was chosen so that young people who have been thrown into many systems, organizations, and even multiple courts, clearly understand that this is SIJS.
Over two years, volunteer attorneys and navigators worked with young people, their families, and their loved ones, and managed to obtain 37 special findings orders!
30% of those orders were for young people who were aging out within months - about to lose their opportunity forever - and we managed to nimbly and quickly work together to get these orders
sometimes just days away from their 21st birthdays.
But metrics never tell the full story. Throughout our journeys together we forged relationships, and sometimes ongoing friendships. Friendships, we found, go much further than referrals.
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
We created guides to help our clients understand the ins and outs of immigration court versus family court and U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS)
We helped young people navigate the shelter system
We connected someone with a college advisor and she is starting college now with a goal of getting a Computer Engineering degree
We have accompanied people to biometric appointments, medical appointments, etc, unrelated to SIJS.
We took someone to a concert for his birthday, and found him a guitar upon discovering his love of playing music
One volunteer with an ESL-teaching background conducted one-on-one English classes for a young person with a variable work schedule
One volunteer working at an art museum arranged for a private, interactive tour of an art exhibit on immigration