Press Releases

November 02, 2011

U.S. 9th Circuit Court Rules in Favor of Former Foster Youth in Immigration Court

Decision will affect victims of neglect and abuse who become U.S. residents under special rules meant to protect youth

LOS ANGELES – The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 2, 2011, in favor of a former foster youth who was brought to the United States as a young child and became a legal U.S. resident but was later deported. The decision in Garcia v. Holder is the first to define when legal status starts for immigrant youth who qualify for special rules meant to protect those who suffer abuse or neglect. The case was argued by Kristen Jackson, a senior staff attorney at Public Counsel.

Jorge Raul Garcia, now 27, was brought to the U.S. at age 8 after his father was incarcerated for murdering his mother. Garcia later suffered severe physical abuse and entered the Los Angeles child welfare system, where a court found that “it would not be in the best interests of the minor to be returned to his/her country of citizenship or the country of habitual residence of his/her parents.” Garcia became a legal permanent resident as a Special Immigrant Juvenile, a status congress created in 1990 specifically to help immigrant youth who are victims of neglect or abuse to start a new life.

Garcia was ordered removed after he was arrested as a young adult for shoplifting and theft of a bike. Under federal immigration law, judges have discretion to reconsider removal for legal U.S. residents convicted of minor offenses, but U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement argued that a judge could not reconsider his deportation order because he had not met a seven-year residency requirement. Garcia was deported in 2008 and left behind a young daughter.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said that the Board of Immigration Appeals should have recognized the unique interests in protecting Special Immigrant Juveniles and concluded that Garcia had been admitted in lawful status years before the date he was granted his permanent residency. The court ordered the Board to re-hear his case and consider whether to cancel his removal.

“The Special Immigrant Juvenile rules were created to protect youth who are victims of abuse or neglect, no matter where they are born,” said Public Counsel staff attorney Kristen Jackson, who argued Garcia’s case. “We can’t turn back the clock for Jorge Garcia, but for youth who are brought to the United States as young children and become victims of abuse and neglect, this decision could mean everything.”

Approximately 1,500 immigrant youth qualified as Special Immigrant Juveniles in 2010, out of more than 1 million people who became legal U.S. residents that year.

Click here to read the opinion in Garcia v. Holder published on Nov. 2, 2011 (pdf)