Immigrant children in Ohio courts

The December 2014 issue of CNO Review features an article about unaccompanied minors in the U.S. and how they interact with the Ohio court system. According to the article, with the recent arrivals of significant numbers of unaccompanied minors at the border, Ohio has seen over 500 placed within the state between January and September 2014. Even before the influx of children at the border and President Obama's executive order for immigration action last month, however, immigrant children were present in Ohio and interacting with Ohio courts through a special immigration remedy called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).

Designed to help children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned, SIJS is somewhat unique in that it requires state courts to be involved in the process of a child obtaining immigration status. According to the USCIS, a family or juvenile (or similar) court must find that the child cannot be reunited with a parent due to abuse, neglect or abandonment and that it is not in the child's best interest to be returned to the home country. The court must also find the child dependent, or legally order him or her to be placed with a state agency, a private agency or a private person. The child then may be able to apply for SIJ status, as long he is under 21, still within the jurisdiction of the court (unless he aged out through no fault of his own), is unmarried and is still living in the U.S. Children who obtain SIJS may then be eligible to apply for a green card.

The article quotes several family, juvenile and probate court judges who have seen many immigrant children in their courtrooms and expressed concern for their well-being and best interest. Judge Terri Jamison of Franklin County Domestic Relations and Juvenile Court divisions stated, “We must use the standard that it is not in the child’s best interest to be returned to their country, and in the cases I’ve seen it is in their best interest to stay here in order to keep them from being taken advantage of." Lorain County Domestic Relations/Juvenile Court Judge Debra Boros also raised the issue of notifying the absent parent of proceedings, which can be challenging when that parent is in another country.

According to the article, with increasing numbers of immigrant children in the state, awareness initiatives and education about issues surrounding immigrant children and immigration remedies are becoming increasingly in-demand. The Ohio Judicial College has already addressed some of the related custody issues in a webinar in November, and will likely present more on this topic in the future.